Protestors Stage Rally Outside XV International AIDS Conference To Call for Increased Antiretroviral Drug Access
About 1,000 Thai and international protestors on Sunday held a rally outside the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, to call for increased access to antiretroviral drugs, the Bangkok Post reports. The protestors chanted, "Free medication for every nation" and "Access for all," and called for the end of free trade negotiations between Thailand and the United States, saying that such agreements could protect U.S. patents on antiretrovirals, the Post reports. The demonstrators presented a letter to the Thai government, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and International AIDS Society President Joep Lange -- co-chair of the conference -- demanding that the Thai government ensure antiretroviral drug coverage and avoid signing free-trade agreements, according to the Post (Preeyanat, Bangkok Post, 7/12).
Thaksin 'Heckled' During Speech
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was "heckled" by AIDS advocates during his speech on Sunday, according to Thailand's Nation (Nation, 7/12). A group of about 20 advocates for injection drug users held up posters during the speech that said, "No more lies" and "Thai government drug policy=drop dead," in protest of the Thai government's "war on drugs," according to Reuters. Thaksin in his speech said, "In the past, drug use was treated like a crime which warranted severe punishment," adding, "At present, our mindsets have changed and we now see drug users as patients who require our support and treatment" (Reuters, 7/11). Paisan Swannawong, an HIV-positive Thai delegate to the conference, following Thaksin's speech spoke "eloquently" about his experience as an injection drug user and the human rights of individuals living with HIV/AIDS, according to the Associated Press (Joshi, Associated Press, 7/12). "We need these means of prevention put in place now," Paisan said, adding, "And we need access to treatment now" (Nation, 7/12).
A group of protestors on Monday "besieged" pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline's exhibition booth at the conference, saying that GSK has "fail[ed]" to provide antiretrovirals to HIV-positive South Africans, according to Reuters (Reuters, 7/12). GSK in June announced it has issued a voluntary license to South Africa's Thembalami Pharmaceuticals to produce generic versions of two of GSK's antiretroviral drugs. Under the agreement, Thembalami -- which is a joint venture between Adcock Ingram and India's Ranbaxy Laboratories -- will be allowed to produce generic versions of lamivudine and zidovudine, as well as a pill that combines the two drugs. GSK also has granted a voluntary license to the South African generic drug firm Aspen Pharmacare to make generic antiretrovirals (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/1). Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said that since GSK made agreements with generic antiretroviral producers, "not one pill has been produced in the only place on the planet that GSK has granted such voluntary licenses," according to Reuters. Martin Sutton, a GSK spokesperson, said that the company "remained committed" to fighting HIV/AIDS globally and that the delays have been the result of not yet gaining approval from South African regulators, Reuters reports (Reuters, 7/12).