Because we just don’t learn – India’s medicine regulatory ecosystem has improved too little since the 1986 JJ Hospital tragedy

An October 5 alert by WHO has highlighted unacceptable levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol (DEG/EG) in four products made by a Haryana-based Indian pharma company and exported to Gambia, where the presence of these chemicals is suspected to have caused a high number of children’s deaths.

How did these chemicals end up in the syrups? Propylene glycol, glycerine etc are part of a range of liquids used as solvents in syrups. The solvent’s role is to completely dissolve the key medicine (say paracetamol powder in paracetamol syrup) and other ingredients. Levels of concentration, taste, flavour, safety and non-toxicity, of the solvent, are key considerations in using a particular solvent. DEG/EG can creep in as a by-product of the manufacture of, say, glycerine, a preferred solvent.

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