A new year begins, but some challenges from the year gone-by have rolled in to this one, and need speedy redressal.

Within months of each other, Gambia and Uzbekistan reported the death of children, potentially linked to cough syrups made by two different companies in India.

In the first incident, authorities from Gambia, India and the World Health Organization (WHO) have made statements that do not help connect the dots. The WHO (which first red-flagged the four products sold in Gambia) said, the contaminated products did contain the toxic DEG (diethylene glycol). They cite lab reports from Switzerland and Ghana.

After conflicting initial reports, a recent Gambian Parliamentary report squarely laid the blame at the Indian pharma company’s doorstep. The report came even as Indian authorities said that control samples from the company, investigated in India, had not shown the presence of DEG. More recently, reports emerged from Uzbekistan. And in between, similar reports emerged from Indonesia, though not linked to medical products from India.

A stalemate between health authorities is not good for public interest. The reason behind the death of the children (Gambia/Uzbekistan) needs to be identified. And if there was product contamination, those responsible need to be punished.

Information gaps remain. Past incidents (2010) have also revealed that contaminated products claiming to be from India, were not from India. In this case, Indian authorities must tie up the loose ends in the probe by sourcing reports/samples from the countries and international labs involved, and cross-check it with samples (batch numbers, dates etc) tested in India. And this report must be made public. Transparent action is required to retain confidence in medicines shipped from India. Drugmakers should make and market quality products. It’s in India’s interest to ensure that, by keeping manufacturing and exports up to scratch. And probing and acting firmly on errant companies.