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‘Fix The System’: Indonesia Parents Seek Justice After Cough Syrup Crisis
Published Mar 03, 2023 IN Foreign News,
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DINOSAUR-themed birthday decorations still hang on the walls of Safitri Puspa Rani’s Indonesian home, where the family celebrated their youngest son’s birthday last year.

“Knock knock! Hey everyone! It’s my eighth birthday!” said a beaming Panghegar Bhumi in a video in September, while making a heart-shaped gesture with his arms.

A month later he died from acute kidney injury, days after a doctor prescribed him a cough syrup containing ingredients that have been linked to more than 200 child deaths in Indonesia, according to the country’s health ministry.

“I whispered in his ears: ‘The medicine is coming, please hang in there a little bit more’,” Rani said, crying in her home in West Java province as she recalled the final days of her son’s life. “But I lied, there was no medicine.”

The 42-year-old mother is among more than two dozen Indonesian families seeking justice for their children, whom they allege were either killed or sickened by contaminated cough syrups. Their class-action lawsuit targets the country’s health ministry, food and drug agency, and eight companies they accuse of selling the syrups — which the World Health Organization said contain an “unacceptable amount” of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol.

“These contaminants are toxic chemicals used as industrial solvents and antifreeze agents that can be fatal even taken in small amounts, and should never be found in medicines,” the WHO said in January.

Since October last year, the WHO has issued alerts for The Gambia, Indonesia and Uzbekistan over syrups containing the two chemicals.

“When I heard that he had to have dialysis, I was so confused and did not know what to do. He is just a kid,” Septian said at her home.

“Now he gets easily fatigued even when he only does a bit of activity,” the 31-year-old said.

But Septian and her husband Riski Agri consider themselves luckier than other families.

“Until today I still wake up in the middle of the night and check on him. We almost lost him,” 34-year-old Agri said.

Since the government sounded the alarm in October, Indonesia’s food and drug agency has recalled 105 products after tests revealed excessive amounts of the two chemicals.

It has also revoked the licenses of six pharmaceutical firms. Police have launched an investigation into five companies and arrested four suspects.

But the plaintiffs say that is not enough.

“From the beginning, this case was not considered a priority,” said Awan Puryadi, the lawyer representing the families.

“All of the victims who are still alive, and are still being treated, must all be covered by the government for the rest of their lives.”

They are seeking compensation of 2 billion rupiah ($131,000) for every person killed and 1 billion rupiah for every person injured.

In a hearing last month, parents wore black shirts that read “I thought it was medicine, it was poison”.

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