Samples of the cough syrup manufactured by a Noida-based firm Marion Biotech that Uzbekistan has linked to the deaths of 18 children in the country have been sent for testing, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said on Thursday.

On Tuesday, the health ministry of Uzbekistan said in a press release that the 18 children who died had used the anti-cold medication Dok 1 Max Syrup made by Marion Biotech.

The children who died had consumed 2.5 milliliters to 5 milliliters of the cough syrup at home three to four times a day, which was higher than the standard dose of the drug, the Uzbekistan health ministry said. Following the deaths, tablets and cough syrups of Dok 1 have been withdrawn from sale in all pharmacies of the country, the statement said.

On Thursday, Mandaviya said that India’s drug regulator, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, is in touch with its Uzbek counterpart.

Officials of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation and the Uttar Pradesh Drug Control have also carried out a joint inspection of Marion Biotech’s Noida facility, the health minister said. Samples of the cough syrup Dok 1 Max have been sent to the Regional Drugs Testing Laboratory in Chandigarh for testing, he added in a series of tweets.

Meanwhile, earlier on Thursday, Marion Biotech said that it has stopped manufacturing the Dok 1 Max cough syrup, ANI reported. The company’s legal department head Hasan Harris told the news agency that the company regretted the deaths of children in Uzbekistan.

Speaking to PTI, he claimed that there were no problems on Marion Biotech’s part in testing the cough syrup.

“We have been there [Uzbekistan] for the past ten years,” Harris said. “Once the government report will come, we will look into it. For now the manufacturing has stopped.”

MEA backs Indian pharmaceutical industry

Meanwhile, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi asserted at a press conference that Indian pharmaceutical industry has been a reliable supplier of medicines across the globe, reported ANI.

“We take these incidents very seriously when they come up,” Bagchi said when asked about the children’s deaths in Uzbekistan. Besides the incident in Uzbekistan, children deaths in The Gambia were also linked to cough syrups made in India.

The spokesperson also said that the ministry was extending support to Indian citizens who are facing legal action from the Uzbek government after the deaths.

“The Uzbek authorities have not formally taken up the matter with us,” he added. “Nevertheless, our embassy has taken up the case with the Uzbek side and is seeking further details of their own investigation.”

Alleged irregularities by Marion Biotech

The Uzbekistan health ministry said preliminary investigation showed the cough syrup contains ethylene glycol, which is a toxic substance.

Syrups are ideally not supposed to contain even traces of ethylene glycol, which is found in industrial grade of glycerine that is not permitted for medicinal purposes. For medical use, Glycerine IP, or Indian Pharmacopoeia, grade must be used in the making of a syrup.

Ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol can cause vomiting, convulsions, affect the circulatory system and cause acute renal failure.

The Gambia deaths and Indian manufacturing

The development in Uzbekistan came two months after the World Health Organization in October issued a global alert for four cough syrups made by Haryana-based Maiden pharmaceuticals.

The move came after authorities in The Gambia linked 66 deaths, most of them due to acute kidney failure, to the cough syrups – Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup, and Magrip N Cold Syrup.

However, the Drugs Controller General of India on December 13 wrote to the global health body, saying that it had drawn a premature link between the deaths of the children and the cough syrups. The authority said that samples of the syrups were tested in a government laboratory and found to be complying with specifications.

Last week, a parliamentary report submitted by The Gambia’s government confirmed that Maiden’s syrups were linked with acute kidney failure in children.

On Thursday, Congress MP Jairam Ramesh targeted the Narendra Modi-led central government citing the deaths in Uzbekistan and The Gambia.

“Made in India cough syrups seem to be deadly,” he wrote in a tweet. “First it was the deaths of 70 kids in Gambia & now it is that of 18 children in Uzbekistan. Modi Sarkar must stop boasting about India being a pharmacy to the world & take strictest action.”