Thailand and the Health-Care Industry

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Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Christopher Horner's ill-informed references and misleading accusations against Thailand's use of compulsory licensing (CL) on three life-saving drugs require that facts be set straight on this matter ("Thailand stealing out of WTO?" Commentary, May 17).

First, the use of compulsory licensing is permissible under the World Trade Organization's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement. Thailand, as a founding member of the WTO, has always stood firm on its commitment to WTO rules and obligations. The consistency of Thailand's decision with WTO rules has not been disputed. This was the first time Thailand used such a measure, but we were not the first to do so. In any case, the use of CL is under the purview of each WTO member government's consideration.

Second, the Public Health Ministry's resort to compulsory licensing is for public, non-commercial use only. This means the generic version of the medicines manufactured or imported under compulsory licensing will only be given to patients under the government's healthcare programs, the aim of which is to provide access to essential life-saving medications. However, at least 20 percent of Thais who can afford to pay out of their own pockets and more than two million foreign patients will continue paying market prices for the original patented products. As such, Mr. Horner's allegations regarding the Government Pharmaceutical Office's commercial motives are irrelevant and misguided. The GPO will not be making commercial profits from the government's CL decision.

Third, while continuing vigorously to promote HIV protection, Thailand still has more than 500,000 people living with HIV/AIDS who need or will need treatment to live. Currently, out of over 10,000 patients dependent on second-line treatment like Kaletra, less than 15 percent have access to the drug. The government, therefore, felt compelled by its humanitarian consideration to increase the number of patients with access to the life-saving medicines. The healthcare budget, despite being increased to rank second after the education budget and standing at more than 11 percent of government's overall budget this year, still cannot keep pace with the prices of some life-saving drugs. Many patients remain barely able to afford treatment without government support. …