Letter to the Editor of the Bangkok Post

Paul Cawthorne
Medecins Sans Frontieres

Bangkok Post
13 April 2005

Talks can do without intellectual property

Your news report of April 9 on the FTA stated that both Thai and US negotiators recognised the obligation to provide for compulsory licensing for essential drugs in emergency situations.

But stating that compulsory licences are limited to essential drugs and emergency situations already goes well beyond what is required by the WTO agreement, which allows for compulsory licensing to be used whenever needed, not just for some medicines some of the time.

If a patented medicine is too expensive and there is a possibility of accessing the cheaper generic drug, it is the responsibility of governments to make the latter course. Ensuring access to affordable medicines is more than an obligation to be observed; it is a fundamental human right. The duty of governments to protect the health of the people overrides that of protecting the profits of American companies. This principle holds whether the disease kills one million people or 10 people.

Thailand's Aids treatment programme is rightly held up as a model for the rest of the developing world. A cornerstone of this programme is the government production of affordable generic Aids medicines. The Thai government must continue to ensure that affordable generics are produced whenever needed.

Thailand is already fully compliant with WTO obligations regarding intellectual property. However, the US government has a long track record of pushing for stronger protection than required by international law, which limits possibilities to access affordable medicines. As long as intellectual property remains part of the negotiations, health and other essential rights are at risk of being traded away. Intellectual property must be removed from the talks.

Medecins Sans Frontieres

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