Indonesian families sue government over deaths from syrup medicines

Since August, 199 people have died of acute kidney injury, prompting an inquiry and ban on some medicines

A pharmacy in Jakarta, Indonesia displays a sign that says the sale of medicinal syrup has been temporarily halted.
A pharmacy in Jakarta, Indonesia, displays a sign saying the sale of medicinal syrup has been temporarily halted. Photograph: Tatan Syuflana/AP

Rebecca Ratcliffe and agenciesFri 2 Dec 2022 06.20 EST

A dozen families, whose relatives died or fell ill after consuming cough syrup medicines, have sued the Indonesian government and companies accused of supplying the products.

At least 199 people, many of them young children, have died as a result of acute kidney injury since August, prompting the government to ban some syrup medicines and launch an investigation.

Agence France-Presse, which reported news of the lawsuit, said the class action been launched against the ministry of health, the country’s food and drug agency and seven companies implicated in selling dangerous syrups.

Families are seeking compensation of about 2 bn rupiah (£103,000) for every person killed and about 1 bn rupiah for every person injured, according to Awan Puryadi, a legal representative of the victims’ relatives.

He told AFP that the authorities had failed to prevent the sale of harmful medicines. “No one has claimed responsibility. They are very disappointed with the current situation,” Puryadi said.

Indonesia’s food and drug agency has suspended the licences of at least three manufacturers that were producing syrup medicines while police investigate.

According to a World Health Organization product alert issued in November, eight products in Indonesia were found by the national regulatory authority to contain dangerous levels of ethylene glycol and/or diethylene glycol – colourless liquids that are typically used in antifreeze.

According to the WHO, the consumption of such compounds, especially by children, may result in serious injury or death. Toxic effects can include “abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, inability to pass urine, headache, altered mental state, and acute kidney injury which may lead to death”, the WHO has warned.

In October, the World Health Organization issued an alert over four Indian-made cough and cold syrups that it said could be linked to acute kidney injuries and the deaths of 70 children in the Gambia.

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