Local medical doctors now say they have evidence showing cough medicines for children are useless and if anything, honey preparations are much better.
A team of research doctors at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi say they have diligently assessed children put on cough medicine, placebo or honey preparations, with the first two showing no benefit at all.
Honey preparations, they say, were found to be the most effective in relieving cough symptoms associated with common cold while medicines and placebo had no benefit.
A placebo is a substance containing no medical value used either in research or to reassure patients they are being treated.
The team followed 145 children aged between one and 12 years attending the Aga Khan University Hospital Paediatric Casualty.
Led by Dr Adil Waris, the team of four says 45 of the children had been put on placebo, 57 on honey and 43 on cough medicines based on the chemical compound called salbutamol.
"Available evidence suggests that cough medicines may be no more effective than honey-based cough remedies. Now we have confirmed this in the current study," writes the team in the current issue of the East African Medical Journal.
The study was first presented at the 14th Annual Scientific Conference of the Kenya Pediatrics Association held in Mombasa last year and now appears in a peer-reviewed journal for the first time.
The same university and a group of doctors from Nairobi Hospital raised a storm in 2009 when they called for a change of policy discouraging the use of cough medicines for children because they are of no benefit, apart from maybe assuring parents that something is being done.
Clarifying the issue, then the Pharmacy and Poisons Board had through paid-up advertisements defended the use of the medicines with proper instructions from a doctor.
"We have clearly explained and issued guidelines which tell which ages should be exposed to these medicines," says Government Chief Pharmacist Dr Kipkerich Koskei.
According to the guidelines available on the board's website, over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines are for ages six to 12 and only supposed to be sold in pharmacies with clear advice on packaging.
"OTC cough and cold medicines are not recommended for children under two years unless with a specific prescription from your doctor," say the guidelines.
The board further warns that serious and potentially life-threatening side effects can occur if some of these medicines are taken against appropriate instructions. "These include death, convulsions, fast heart rates and reduced levels of consciousness."
The latest study raises new questions, especially for children aged between six and12, where the researchers say some of the medicines offer no benefit. They, however, do not indicate whether they could represent a health risk.
The study 'Randomised Double Blind Study to Compare Effectiveness of Honey, Salbutamol and Placebo in Treatment of Cough in Children with Common Cold' is, however, categorical that these medicines are useless.
The team says honey consistently scored the highest levels of reducing cough symptoms.