IP Disputes in Medicine

Monday, February 12, 2007

Dr. Margaret Chan to Dr. Mongkoi Na Songkhla regarding Thai CL

by James Packard Love

The following is the text of a February 7, 2007 letter sent by Dr. Margaret Chan, the DG of the World Health Organization, to Dr. Mongkol Na Songkhla, the Thailand Minister of Public Health. The letter is an apology for comments at a briefing at the Thai National Health Security Office, which led to newpaper reports in Thailand suggesting the WHO was critical of the Ministry of Health's recent decisions to issue compulsory licenses on three drugs. An image on the letter is available here (page 1, page2). Jamie

World Health Organization

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In reply please refer to: DGO

Mr. Mongkol Na Songkhla
Minister of Public Health
Ministry of Public Health
Royal Thai Government
Tivanond Road
Nonthaburi 11000

7 February 2007

Dear Minister,

It was a pleasure to meet you last week in Bangkok, and I must express my deep appreciation to you and your staff for the warm welcome, hospitality and great efficiency demonstrated throughout my brief visit to Thailand.

It was a great honour for me to have an audience with His Majesty the King, and with her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, in her capacity as Chair of the Board of Trustees and President of the of the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation.

I was particularly impressed with the field visit, which provided me with an opportnity to witness the work of dedicated health professionals and the community in Khon Kaen and Nam Phong. The pride and professionalism of the staff and the support of the community was obvious and most encouraging.

I also appreciated the opportunity to hear mote about the work of the National Health Security Office and the National Health Promotion Foundation. I was pleased to witness the commitment of the Royal Thai government to universal coverage with effective health care services, and to the health of the people of Thailand. I welcome the increasing budget for the universal coverage scheme, which I know understand amounts to close to 2,000 baht per person per year, and includes treatment for people with HIV/AIDS with antiretrovirals.

Minister of Public Health, Thailand Page 2

I deeply regret that my comments at the close of the briefing at the National Health Security Office were misrepresented in the media, and may have cause embarrassment to the government of Thailand. They should not be taken as a criticism of the decision of the Royal Thai government to issue compulsory licences, which is entirely the prerogative of the government, and fully in line with the TRIPS agreement.

Thailand is making good progress towards increase [sic] budget allocations for health, while simultaneously control [sic] rising health care costs with greater efficiency. Medicines are a substantial element of health care costs, and it is entirely appropriate and necessary for the government of Thailand to find means of reducing these costs to ensure sustainable financing of health care.

As I mentioned in the recent Executive Board, I firmly believe that the pharmaceutical industry-generic manufacturers and R&D companies are part of the solution. I am committed to dialogue with industry to find ways of ensuring that access to high quality essential medicines is not limited by cost considerations. I am equally committed to dialogue with people who suffer from HIV/AIDS and other conditions, and with civil society groups and NGOs.

WHO unequivocally supports the use by developing countries of the flexibilities within the TRIPS agreement that ensure access to affordable, high quality drugs. This includes the use of compulsory licensing, as described in paragraph 6 of the Doha Declaration of the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health. The decision whether to issue a compulsory license for a pharmaceutical product is a national one. There is no requirement for countries to negotiate with patent holders before issuing a compulsory licence. As a global community we need to ensure the right balance between the immediate and urgent pressing need to provide affordable medicines to the many that need them, and the need for provide continuous incentives for innovation. It is in this regard that I noted that prior negotiations with industry is a pragmatic approach that may ensure countries have access to high quality medicines at affordable prices.

Where there are urgent needs, the bottom line is that people need access to medicines.

I trust this clarifies the position of WHO concerning compulsory licensing of medicines, and I look forward to further opportunities to discuss these important issues with you in the future.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. Margaret Chan

cc: The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, Bangkok
Permanent Mission Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Specialized Agencies in Switzerland


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