India halts production of cough syrups suspected of links to child deaths
By Navid Fatemi
25 May 2014
In a major victory for the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO) has decided to suspend the importation of cough syrups used to treat children for what was claimed to be evidence of links to about 200 childhood deaths.
The decision, issued late Tuesday by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, follows a request by an American lawyer, William L. Swart, who said at a WHO conference in Geneva last week that he had evidence that cough syrup is responsible for about 200 deaths.
The decision puts in doubt the legal basis of the US’s insistence that cough syrups be regulated as medicines. The US, which has been involved in trade negotiations with the WHO, has previously been able to regulate the cough syrup under US patent law.
But last week, several US government attorneys advised the US Trade Representative to reject the WHO’s “claim” that cough syrups had caused a substantial number of illnesses. US lawyers said the evidence did not meet the standard that WHO officials have used to justify the suspension.
In a statement, the US Chamber of Commerce called on the US Trade Representative to overturn the US policy of suspension of cough syrup imports, which will cause “substantial hardship” in the US
By “hardship,” the US Chamber meant that the US Chamber and its members would be subject to a 5 percent tariff on the cough syrup imports that would be necessary to offset the costs of the US government’s policy.
In other developments on Tuesday, WHO said that it had invited a group of experts “to review the evidence available, including further analyses and testing by third parties in case where the evidence is weak,” WHO director-general Margaret Chan said in a statement.
These new steps come as the US government has continued to insist that the decision to regulate cough syrup as a medicine be based on “substantial evidence” rather than an “unsupported legal theory,” as the US Chamber of Commerce and the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation argued.