Uzbekistan cough syrup deaths: How Indian drugs linked to tragedies can ruin Indian pharma’s reputation

Apart from cough syrups, Sun pharma has also faced action from USFDA, while Dr Reddy’s was hit by a lawsuit in the US.

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Thursday, December 29, 2022, 09:27 PM IST
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In 2001, Cipla’s Chairperson Yusuf Hamied broke the stranglehold of big pharma on the HIV drugs cocktail, to bring down the cost of treatment from Rs 5.5 lakh per year to Rs 17,000 per year. He was following in the footsteps of his father Khwaja Abdul Hamied who had established Cipla on the instructions of Mahatma Gandhi, to make India self-reliant. The reputation Cipla created for Indian pharma with its move to save thousands dying of HIV everyday, is now in jeopardy, after multiple incidents of Indian cough syrups causing deaths of children.

From local incidents to global shame

Two months after 69 children in Gambia died after consuming Delhi-based Maiden Pharma’s caught syrup, 18 children have died in Uzbekistan, allegedly due to cough syrups made by Indian firm Marion Biotech. Two years before that, 12 children in Jammu’s Udhampur had also succumbed to complications caused by Digital Vision’s cough syrup Coldbest-PC. With the tragedy in Gambia a cough syrup flagged for being substandard in Indian states, brought the global attention to Indian pharma, and not the good kind.

Need for cooperation not confrontation

Earlier this month, India’s drug comptroller general cleared Maiden Pharma’s cough syrups based on tests conducted in the country, and also claimed that the World Health Organisation’s move to issue a warning against it globally, had tarnished the Indian pharma sector’s reputation. On the other hand, WHO stood its ground, saying that its priority was to act quickly after its tests showed dangerous levels of ethylene and diethylene glycol, to prevent more deaths. Weeks later, another Indian cough syrup being linked to child deaths in Uzbekistan, can leave the Indian authorities red faced.

Pharma sector essential for Make in India

The Indian pharma industry worth more than $50 billion is the world’s third largest, and exports medicines to more than 200 countries. With the present regime pushing for Make in India to become self-reliant, the incidents that cast a doubt over drug manufacturing in the country, can affect the demand for Indian pharmaceuticals.

Only the tip of the iceberg?

But cough syrups aren’t the only product threatening the pharma sector’s health, Sun Pharma has also received an import alert for its Halol plant from USFDA, indicating safety issues with its products. Another Indian firm Dr Reddy’s recently got relief in the US, after being accused of indulging in anti-competitive practices.

Such lawsuits and serious quality issues with India-made drugs, could seriously damage Indian pharma, while local authorities take a confrontational stance with WHO.

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