Bangkok Post Sept 5, 1998 - NGOs rally against patent law changes


NGOs rally against patent law changes: Call on US to stop pressuring Thailand

Anjira Assavanonda

Activists from non-governmental organisations yesterday demanded that the US administration stop pressuring Thailand to amend its pharmaceutical patent law.

Some 30 demonstrators who rallied in front of the US embassy yesterday were from the Thai NGO Coalition on Aids, the Coordinating Committee for Primary Health Care of Thai NGOs, and another two groups of local and international NGOs working on HIV/Aids and other health issues in Thailand.

The controversial Patent Law Amendment Bill, which is expected to have strong impact on foreign drugs sold in Thailand, was due for its second reading in Parliament yesterday.

In their first petition lodged with US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, the protesters demanded that the US administration stop pressuring Thailand to delete some important provisions on its authority on compulsory licensing of pharmaceutical products, and also to disband a pharmaceutical patent law committee.

The petition also called on the United States to allow other manufacturers to have the right to produce expensive patented drugs, and to allow them to be sold at their generic equivalents to bring down prices.

"In the wake of the economic crisis, pressure from the US towards a small country like ours will unnecessarily place an additional burden and deprive our people of access to good health," the petition said.

Another petition was submitted to Donna Shalala, secretary to the Health and Human Services Department, calling on the agency to investigate the consumer price for ddI (didanosine), a US government-patented drug used in the treatment of HIV- /Aids. The drug was licensed on an exclusive basis to one company, Bristol-Myers Squibb.

According to this petition, Thailand can obtain ddI for 50 baht for a 100mg tablet, while the standard regime of ddI for an average Thai adult with HIV/Aids is two 100-mg tablets twice a day. This means a patient will have to spend 200 baht per day.

The protesters compared ddI to AZT, which is listed as an essential drug, and is available at a cheaper price to many Thai Aids sufferers through government or private insurance programmes. Unlike AZT, ddI is available only from Bristol-Myers Squibb, and it is so expensive that it is not included on the list of essential drugs. The drug is not covered by public health insurance.

"If Bristol-Myers Squibb, which has not paid for the research and development of the drug, is permitted to maintain its monopoly on ddI and permitted to charge high prices, we will be unable to purchase the drug and may die," said the protesters.

Saree Ongsomwang of the Coordinating Committee for Primary Health Care of Thai NGOs said if the amendment bill passed Parliament, it meant multinational drug companies would maintain their monopoly on production and marketing of drugs, and drug prices would remain high.

She cited two drugs which are effective in the treatment of cryptococcal meningitis, one of the more serious infections among Aids victims in Thailand. The drugs are Diflucan (Fluconazole), produced by Pfizer, and Amphotericine B, produced by Bristol-Myers Squibb. The cost of one-year treatment with Fluconazole at the current market price is in the region of 100,000 baht or US$2,500, which is unaffordable by an average Thai family.

The demonstrators yesterday brandished placards with protest messages such as "Drug business - a huge market for the US, but a burden for Thailand"; "Where is free trade in drug marketing?"; "Stop drug price monopoly"; and "Enough double standard of the US government."

One HIV patient among the demonstrators said Thai HIV/Aids patients would face more hardship if the government yield to US pressure.

"In the near future, a number of new drugs are going to be invented for HIV/Aids treatment. If such law is passed, we won't be able to obtain these drugs at cheap prices. How long do we have to suffer under the new patent law which cannot be changed? What should the government think of first between trade aspects and people's lives?" she said.

An official from the US embassy's Commerce Department accepted the petition yesterday, but refused to give any response.

Ms Saree said the groups would come back to hear the answer in six weeks. They also planned to meet a special House committee on the patent law amendment to discuss the problem.

© Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 1998
Last Modified: Sat, Sep 5, 1998
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