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WHO issues cough syrup alert in Cameroon

Aparna Ramamurthy
July 19, 2023

The World Health Organisation has flagged a batch of "Naturcold" cough and cold syrup sold in Cameroon as toxic for containing unacceptable amounts of contaminants.

Diethylene glycol was detected in samples of NATURCOLD
Samples of the NATURCOLD syrup from Cameroon were made available to WHO last monthImage: Naturcold

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday issued an alert regarding a batch of contaminated cough syrup sold in Cameroon, noting that it contained unacceptable amounts of contaminant chemicals. 

According to the WHO for the region of Africa, the stated active ingredients of Naturcold syrup are listed as paracetamol, phenylephrine hydrochloride and chlorpheniramine maleate — a combination used to relieve symptoms associated with the common cold, flu and allergic rhinitis. 

The cough syrup was analyzed in a WHO-contracted laboratory after samples from Cameroon were made available last month. 

As a result of the analysis, as much as 28.6% diethylene glycol was detected in the syrup. The acceptable limit is no more than 0.10%. Diethylene glycol is normally used as a solvent, but can be illicitly put in medicine as a cheap alternative to more expensive ingredients.  

Tainted cough syrup especially dangerous for children

According to the WHO, Diethylene glycol is toxic to humans and can prove fatal. The alert declared the product to be unsafe, especially in children, as it may result in serious injury or death. 

Other side effects may include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, inability to pass urine, headache, altered mental state and acute kidney injury which may lead to death. 

The product packaging lists Fraken International (England) as a manufacturer, but the United Kingdom national regulatory authority has confirmed that no such company exists in the UK, Reuters news agency reported. 

"Inquires are still underway to determine the origin of the product," the WHO said, adding that the product may have authorizations in other countries. 

More than 300 children died from contaminated cough syrup in the Gambia, Uzbekistan and Indonesia in 2022.

Reuters contributed to this report

Edited by: Wesley Rahn