Peoples’ lives before commercial interest: The US-Thailand FTA threatens HIV treatment

July 12, 2004

Bangkok, Thailand –The US is pressuring Thailand to sign away citizens rights to life-saving medicines in the bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) currently under negotiation, said international agency Oxfam today.

In a report released on the eve of the XV International AIDS conference in Bangkok, Oxfam warns that US demands for the US-Thai FTA to toughen existing intellectual property protection for drugs produced by giant pharmaceutical companies will hamper Thailand’s successful HIV/AIDS treatment programme and undermine future access to affordable medicines

In Thailand, there are 29,000 new infections of HIV/AIDS each year, of which approximately 4,200 are children. Access to affordable medicines is a critical component of the government’s strategy to scale up the current treatment programme and prevent the spread of the epidemic.

“If Thailand is to scale up its AIDS treatment programme, it must be allowed access to inexpensive generic versions of patented drugs in the future, otherwise one of the world’s success stories will fail.” said Dr. Mohga Kamal Smith, Oxfam’s Health Policy Advisor.

Thailand is currently implementing a treatment programme based on a generic fixed dose combination recommended by the WHO. This three-in-one tablet is around 10 times cheaper than the patented brand name drugs, and enhances patients’ compliance by decreasing the number of pills that need to be taken to two a day.

However, Thailand also urgently needs access to generic versions of other patented medicines that are vital for people who develop side effects or resistance to currently available drugs. For example, Efavirenz, a much needed antiretroviral drug made by Merck, is too expensive because it is under patent. Also essential is access to drugs to treat life-threatening opportunistic infections, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV), which can cause blindness and death. This can be treated by GSK’s ganciclovir, but because this drug is patented, it is too expensive to be included in the government’s programme.

The patent rules in the proposed US-Thai FTA, if based on recent US FTAs with other developing countries, will close down the option of accessing such cheap generic medicines in the future.

“The US should not exploit Thailand’s economic dependence on export to the American market to impose stricter patent provisions that serve primarily the interests of US corporations and go far beyond the world standards set by the WTO,” Dr. Kamal Smith added.

Without generic versions the cost of including necessary patented medicines could double or even triple the current cost of the Thai treatment programme, resulting in fewer people having access to life saving drugs

“Oxfam urges the USA to refrain from pressurising Thailand to implement TRIPS-plus measures in the FTA, and instead give its maximum support to the expansion of the Thai AIDS programme,” said Ashvin Dayal, Oxfam East Asia Regional Director.


For Further Information or to arrange an interview please call Mona Laczo +66 (0) 1 814 7756 or Dr. Mohga Kamal Smith at + 44 (0) 7776255884 or + 66 (0)1 935 3196

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