Most of the 11 children who died in Ramnagar area of Jammu region’s Udhampur district between December and January, after consuming cough syrup from a batch believed to have contained a poisonous compound, were prescribed the medicine by a private ‘registered medical practitioner’ in the town.
A government school teacher said he had always gone to Mohinder Singh, also the owner of a local chemist shop, when his children took ill, and hence was the first person he approached when his son Anirudh, 2, caught cold in the last week of December 2019.
“Singh gave ColdBest-PC syrup,” he said.
Anirudh got progressively worse, and finally died at PGIMER, Chandigarh, on January 10.
A PGIMER laboratory found prima facie presence of Diethylene Glycol in the ColdBest-PC syrup of September 2019 batch, manufactured by Himachal Pradesh-based Digital Vision, and sold in Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Tiruchirapalli (Tamil Nadu), Shillong (Meghalaya), and Tripura.
Most children who died belonged to poor, Scheduled Caste families, and their parents have little comprehension of what has happened. Many do not even have copies of the prescriptions any longer, as probing officials have taken these away.
Director Health Services, Jammu, Dr Renu Sharma, said the children were taken initially to a private practitioner, as the parents believed it was a case of normal cold. By the time they were brought to Ramnagar Sub-District and Udhampur District Hospital, the children had gone into renal failure, she said.
Although deaths linked allegedly to ColdBest-PC have only been reported from Ramnagar, the authorities have ordered Digital Vision to halt production of the syrup, and states and UTs have been instructed to stop its sale and distribution.
Konic Goyal, MD, Digital Vision, said, “We can say anything only when the investigations are complete.” Goyal said the laboratory report only suspects prima facie presence of a compound (Diethylene Glycol) in the syrup, and a final report confirming or ruling out its presence is yet to come.
No action has yet been initiated against anyone.
Commissioner, J&K Food and Drugs Authority, Vinod Sharma, said they are waiting for the “legal (detailed) report” on samples.
Singh’s Jamwal Medical Hall shop has been shut since last month. He claims to have sold 500-600 bottles of ColdBest-PC syrup of the September 2019 batch, and said there have been no complaints from others. If there was something wrong with his medication, others too would have got hospitalised, he asserted.
Singh said his father, Bharat Singh, was a “vaid (traditional healer)”, who prescribed Ayurvedic medicines. He claimed to have started learning under him.
While he studied only up to Class X, Singh said this “experience” plus an interview that helped him register as a medical practitioner in 1982 with the then J&K Board of Ayurvedic and Unani System of Medicines. While the registration allowed him to only prescribe Ayurvedic medicine, on the basis of another interview, in 1998, he got the licence from J&K Pharmacy Council to sell allopathic medicines as well.
Jammu & Kashmir has thousands of people with similar qualifications with licences to practice as medical practitioners. Now, after abrogation of special status under Article 370, the Central Pharmacy Act applies to J&K, and Sharma says licences can now be issued only under its provisions.
The government-run Ramnagar District Hospital, which caters to a population of over 2 lakh, does not have any specialists.
Besides Anirudh, some of the others whose deaths might be linked to ColdBest-PC syrup:
* Akshu Kumar, 1: He developed cold on January 3 evening, and parents Sanjay Kumar, 35, a labourer earning Rs 3,000-4,000 a month, and Neetu Devi took him to Mohinder Singh the following morning. He soon started vomiting and developed fever. He was taken to SMGS Hospital, Jammu, and died on January 15.
* Amit Kumar, 4: He started vomiting on December 27 evening. The next day, his father Rattan Chand, 39, who works as a tanker driver for Rs 5,000 a month, took Amit to Ramnagar Sub-District Hospital. From there, Amit was taken to Udhampur District Hospital, and then SMGS Hospital. Amit died on January 1. The family doesn’t remember the syrup prescribed.
* A two-month-old infant: Jafar Din, 26, a labourer, said he was yet to name his son, who was kept in incubator for a long time after birth at SMGS Hospital. A week after Jafar and wife Murkha Bibi, 20, got him home — in Nagrota Pangrian village — the infant started vomiting. The child died on January 2. Jafar doesn’t remember the medicines prescribed.
* Surabhi, 2: On December 23, she developed chest congestion and parents Govind Ram, 42, who works at a dhaba in Katra for Rs 4,000-5,000 a month, and Nimo Devi took her to Mohinder Singh, who prescribed the syrup and some other medicines. As Surabhi’s condition deteriorated over the next two days, she was taken first to Ramnagar Sub-District Hospital and then Jammu, where she remained on dialysis until December 30. The next morning, the doctors explained the parents Surabhi’s condition and asked them to take the girl home. She died the same day.
* Kanishk Dogra, 2: Susheel Kumar, 37, a marginal farmer with 1-acre land, said he took Kanishk, ailing with cough and fever, to Mohinder Singh on December 14. Singh prescribed Coldbest-PC and some other syrups. When there was no improvement, Kumar took Kanishk to Ramnagar Sub-District Hospital on December 22. On December 26, Kanishk was admitted to SMGS and diagnosed with acute renal failure. He died the next day.
* Jannu Kumar, 1: Thakar Dass, 45, a labourer earning Rs 3,000-4,000 a month, took Jannu to Mohinder Singh on January 16 as he had fever and was vomiting. Jannu was referred to another hospital, where a doctor advised them to visit a child specialist in Udhampur. The latter referred them to Jammu, where Jannu died on January 28.
* Sreyansh, 1: Son of soldier Madan Lal, 33, Sreyansh developed cold and cough on December 12 and was taken to Mohinder Singh. The next day, he was taken to Ramnagar Sub-District Hospital and from there to a private child specialist at Udhampur. While the cold improved, the parents said Sreyansh could not pass urine, and took him to Jammu and then PGI on December 16. He died on December 25.
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