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6 Dec 2022

Aisyah Llewellyn, Al Jazeera

Indonesia: Children die after allegedly developing acute kidney problems from cough syrup

"‘Too late to save him’: Indonesian children killed by cough syrup" 14 November

... As far as Siti, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, was aware, her only child was healthy enough to fight off a cold.

She gave him cough syrup bought from the local pharmacy to ease his symptoms. But on September 15, Fajar died.

It was not the cold that killed him but suspected kidney failure caused by the widely available medicines that were supposed to help him get better.


Fajar is one of the dozens of Indonesian children who have died since August as a result of taking cough syrups suspected of being contaminated with chemicals used in anti-freeze products. The deaths have prompted the government to order the withdrawal of syrup-based medicines from sale, and revoke permits for more than 1,000 such products.

Malahayati, the chairman of Indonesia’s Child Protection Agency in Langkat in North Sumatra, told Al Jazeera that the agency was “very concerned” about the recent spate of deaths.

“We ask the government to immediately find out how this originated and provide a solution so that there are no further victims,” she said.


Indonesia recorded more than 269 cases of acute kidney failure as of October 26, said Mohammad Syahril, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Health Ministry. Some 157 of those affected had died, he added.

Experts suspect that both numbers are an undercount, noting that some of the first cases may not have been recorded as kidney failure because the children were suffering from other illnesses and the fact that many were unaware of the potentially contaminated medicines.

After an investigation, the ministry said it had found that some medicinal syrups – used to bring down fevers, and ease the symptoms of coughs and colds – had been contaminated with chemicals including ethylene glycol, diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol butyl ether.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says such substances, which are usually found in antifreeze products and used in refrigerators, air-conditioners and freezers, are not safe for use in medicines.

Last month, it ordered cough syrup products manufactured by a company in India to be removed from sale after the death of 66 young children in The Gambia from acute kidney failure.

According to the Indonesia Food and Drug Supervisory Agency (BPOM), the chemicals had been found in locally-produced products, including fever medicines Termorex Syrup, Unibebi Fever Syrup and Unibebi Fever Drops, as well as cough medicines Unibebi Cough Syrup and Flurin DMP Syrup.


According to BPOM, two pharmaceutical companies are currently under investigation after it was suspected that they had switched to sourcing ingredients from pharmaceutical suppliers to chemical suppliers, perhaps leading to contamination.

“There are indications in their products that [chemical levels] were excessive, highly toxic and suspected of causing kidney injury,” Penny Lukito, the head of BPOM, said at a news conference in Jakarta in October.