Sunday, May 6, 2007

Chicago Sun-Times: Thailand violates drug patents for its own profit

May 5, 2007

This week, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative issued its annual review of the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights across the world. Twelve countries with particularly egregious policies were placed on the report's Priority Watch List, and for the first time, Thailand was elevated to that classification.

This dishonor was expected. Over the last few months, the nation's military-appointed government has issued several ''compulsory licenses'' on patented medicines.

Citing a World Trade Organization rule that permits a country to breach patents during a ''national emergency,'' the Thai government has granted itself the right to produce copies of Kaletra and Efavirenz, two powerful HIV/AIDS antiretrovirals, and Plavix, the popular heart-disease drug. The government has claimed, with much praise from a broad coalition of health activists and nongovernmental organizations, that it would be unable to meet its commitment to universal health care without compulsory licensing.

The truth is that Thailand's decision has nothing to do with lowering costs or compassion. Instead, the Thai government appears to be violating patents for its own profit. And in doing so, the nation is putting Thai citizens at great risk.

Consider: Earlier this month, Abbott Laboratories announced that it would sell to Thailand and dozens of other low-income nations, Kaletra for $1,000 per patient annually. That's about 55 percent less than Kaletra's current cost and cheaper than every copy of the medicine available. In March, Merck similarly offered to drastically reduce the price of Efavirenz.

Yet Thailand has asserted that it will maintain compulsory licenses for both medicines.

Or look at the Global Fund, which recently announced that it would foot Thailand's entire bill for Efavirenz by purchasing a generic version of the drug from a World Health Organization-approved plant in India.

The Thai government rejected the Global Fund's offer, leaving Thai taxpayers to foot the bill for the drug's manufacture.

Clearly, this isn't about improving access to medicines for the Thai people. It's about establishing Thailand's state-owned drug manufacturer -- the Government Pharmaceutical Organization -- as a dominant regional manufacturer of copycat drugs. Only the GPO can sell copycat drugs to the Thai government, which excludes private manufacturers from receiving government contracts.

This leaves the GPO to reap all the cushy rewards, which flow right back to the government and provide further opportunities for the nation's politically connected to enrich themselves.

In 2005, the GPO made a profit of around $35.5 million and reinvested only about 2 percent of that sum into research and development. As one would expect, this money lines the pockets of Thailand's ruling class.

Further, when it comes to producing drugs, the GPO has a terrifying track record. In 2002, the Global Fund awarded Thailand $133 million to test and manufacture its locally produced HIV/AIDS medication, GPO-Vir.

Last August, however, the Global Fund was forced to withdraw its funding because the GPO's manufacturing facilities did not meet international standards and the GPO's drug had yet to gain WHO approval.

But it was too little too late. In July 2005, it emerged that GPO-Vir had caused a rise in drug-resistant AIDS cases because of its poor quality. Despite this track record, Thailand continues to administer GPO-Vir to its HIV/AIDS patients -- which, ironically, is making the virus even more deadly.

Yet instead of denouncing the Thai government's dangerous and self-interested policies, activist groups have urged it to go further and faster. Even worse, many U.S. lawmakers have piled on. Earlier this year, 22 members of Congress signed a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative expressing their support for Thailand's use of compulsory licenses.

The public-health impact, as the HIV/AIDS example suggests, will likely prove devastating.

By upgrading Thailand to the Priority Watch List, the U.S. Trade Representative has sternly condemned the Thai government's patent violations. U.S. policymakers should take this opportunity to trumpet the trade representative's report and denounce Thailand's behavior.

Philip Stevens is health program director at the International Policy Network, a London-based charity.

This information is fairly old and well-known already. The Thai government is not the most ethical body in the world.

This is the same government that cares so much about the people that it was giving rotten milk to school children so a political big shot could make some corruption money.

I have worked in the medical industry before, so I know the reputation of Big Pharma, and it is not good. But when it comes to medical technologies, developing countries are ripping off the first world a lot. They steal the technology and re-sell it a cheaper price. This is not only about access to drugs for poor people. Thailand wants to frame the debate that way. But the credibility of the Thai government really is less than zero and it could care less about helping the poor. The fact is that Thailand could raise the money for its universal health care system by raising taxes. Instead, it chooses to steal. And, if this article is correct, it is stealing in order to make a profit on somebody else's dime and it is going to make many Aids sufferers worse off because of it.


Anonymous said...

That guy was obviously hired by Thaksin to destroy the international name of Thailand...

Anonymous said...

Yep, and undermine its reputation for being a good member of the international community. And its excellent human rights record. And free speech. And democracy. And honesty.


Anonymous said...

I think I saw Thaksin last week in the central Tallinn, throwing bricks at the Russian embassy! I am pretty sure he is to blame for this Estonian/Russian diplomatic dispute! Damn, he is a real troublemaker. I think I saw him wearing ManU's shirt, and stamping on some baht coins on the way to pick up new ammo, I saw it with my own eyes! Then to top it off, he sent a message with his Blackperry to his cronies in USA to launch a new attack against Thailand! (He is quite technology savvy person, that Thaksin)

Then he ate my homework! Bastard! (But he has cute daughter...mmmm, would he buy his future-son-in-law a new Toyota pickup?)


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