Devouring books from a young age, Sheena Almaera Maryam had been excited about her first day of kindergarten near Jakarta.
But when she developed a fever in September 2022, the syrup she was prescribed turned out to be toxic. It ravaged her internal organs. Now the five-year-old spends her days lying in a room lined with Hello Kitty wallpaper, staring blankly up at a baby mobile, her mother Desi Permatasari told Reuters.
Sheena is one of hundreds of children from Gambia to Uzbekistan found by national authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) to have been poisoned by contaminated medicinal syrups in the past two years, in one of the largest episodes of such contamination on record. The rash of poisonings led to criminal probes and lawsuits in at least four countries, a surge in regulatory scrutiny, and families with children dead or disabled.
More contaminated syrups were found in new regions this month, and the WHO has said they could continue to be found for several years.
Sheena lives in the worst affected country: More than 200 children in Indonesia died of Acute Kidney Injury caused by the poison. Indonesia also has the most survivors – 122 children, according to Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin. The ministry says most have since been “cured” but six are still undergoing treatment.
Some of them, like Sheena, have crippling disabilities. Reuters’ images of them at home offer a rare look at survivors and their parents in the aftermath of Indonesia’s contamination tragedy. The news agency also interviewed three of the families.
“The doctor said her brain is damaged from the poison,” said Sheena’s mother. “She can only lay down.”
The toxins were contained in syrups made by at least three Indonesian drug