Here in the Philippines, corruption is common, but westerners who know little about Asia forget that China is also corrupt, and because that government controls the press, often little or nothing is reported about riots or other protests against corrupt local officials.

But the latest result of Chinese corruption, the contamination of gluten used for dog food that resulted in thousands of dead pets in the US, has led to the NYTimes investigating and noting the Chinese connection in several other fatal outbreaks of Renal failure and encephalopathy (brain damage/coma) due to diethyl glycol being used as a cheap substitute for glycerin in cough medicines in Haiti, Panama, Nigeria India and Bengaladesh.

When at least 88 children died in Haiti a decade ago, F.D.A. investigators traced the poison to the Manchurian city of Dalian, but their attempts to visit the suspected manufacturer were repeatedly blocked by Chinese officials, according to internal State Department records. Permission came more than a year later, but by then the plant had moved and its records were destroyed….

The NYTimes article traces how a semi trained chemist learned he could substitute cheaper industrial “syrups” and make a profit. When people died in a sophisticated Guangzhou hospital, alerts sounded, but the government ignored or was slow to follow up these deaths even though presumably many more rural people may have died while taking the medicine and not had their deaths reported to the authorities.

The lethal ingredient was next traced to Panama, where only a major sleuthing investigation by local doctors and the US CDC  found that the renal failure and ascending paralysis was toxic, not viral.

The rest of the article goes into how middle men bought the toxic substance and passed it off as the chemically similar and more expensive ingredient used in common cough medicines and as a sweetener in Paracetamol syrup for children (i.e. the medicine in the US called acetaminophen or tylenol).

The problem is false paperwork, and failure to recheck the ingredient when shipped from person to person.

In the US, this is called quality control.

But as long as China looks the other way when it’s businessmen substitute shoddy or illegal ingredients to make a profit, the problem will continue.

And this is one ingredient in medicine.

Now, multiply this by many ingredients and many medicines…

In 1938, a similar incident led to the FDA tightly controlling how medicines were made. Hopefully the thousands of deaths from this climate of corruption will bring a simlar “headsup” and regulation of medicine and ingredients.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes medical essays on Hey Doc Xanga Blog 

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