Thai Health Minister Will Expand Country’s Generic Drug Program To Cover More Antiretrovirals if Negotiations With Drugmakers Fail
Thai Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla recently said that he will expand the country's generic drug program to include more antiretroviral and cancer drugs unless pharmaceutical companies reduce their prices, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 3/18). Pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories recently announced that it has withdrawn applications to sell seven new drugs in Thailand in response to the country's decision to issue a compulsory license for the company's antiretroviral drug Kaletra. Mongkol in January signed the compulsory license, which allows Thailand to produce a lower-cost version of Kaletra, into law. World Trade Organization regulations allow governments to declare a "national emergency" and issue compulsory licenses without consulting the foreign patent owner. Thailand, which has 580,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, has won international recognition for its quick launch of a national drug program that provides treatment to more than 82,000 HIV-positive people. However, the government's commitment to providing universal access to care is facing increasingly high drug costs. The compulsory license for Kaletra could save the country as much as $24 million annually. Abbott offered to lower Kaletra's cost to $167 per patient monthly, although representatives from the health ministry said that was still too high. Abbott and the ministry agreed to meet for further negotiations (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/14).
Mongkol said that resistance from pharmaceutical companies would not prevent him from pursuing his efforts to provide access to reduced-cost medications to Thai residents, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. "I will continue to negotiate with drug companies" to reduce the cost of HIV/AIDS, cancer and heart disease medications, but "if negotiations fail, we are ready to act," Mongkol said. He added, "We've come to the point that we have to do something about" providing access to low-cost drugs. According to Mongkol, the government had to resort to the generic drug program in the face of a rising health care spending, which is more than $7 billion and is projected to rise 10% annually. Mongkol said that if pharmaceutical companies "voluntarily reduce prices to let the poor people have access to essential drugs, there is no need to do compulsory licensing" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 3/18). Commerce Minister Krirkkrai Jirapaet on Friday during a meeting with Ambassador Friedrich Hamburger, who heads the Delegation of the European Commission of Thailand, reiterated that Thailand's move to issues compulsory licenses is legal under WTO intellectual property laws, the TNA/MCOT News reports. Krirkkrai recommended that a meeting be held among representatives of private and public agencies to discuss the issue (TNA/MCOT News, 3/17). Thai Secretary for Justice Jarun Pukditanakul on Thursday said that the pharmaceutical industry is an "obvious profit-oriented business," adding, "But its present business protection goes beyond the limit -- to the extent that the principle of human rights has been completely forgotten." Siriwat Thiptaradol, secretary-general of the country's Food and Drug Administration, said he would hold a meeting with patent holders of the three drugs under compulsory licensing on March 26 (Thai News Service, 3/19).