For the Wall Street Journal (Bangkok's Drug War Goes Global, March 7, 2007) to assert that by issuing compulsory licenses on AIDS and heart medicines, Thailand is committing a "seizure of foreign drug patents" is inaccurate and misleading. And, calling those who support a country's right to utilize the TRIPS agreement to promote access to medicines, as supported by the 2001 WTO Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health, as "anti-patent hooligans" is blatantly offensive.
The Wall Street Journal editors state that they are "not lawyers", yet they feel medically qualified enough to claim that Thailand "does not have an HIV/AIDS epidemic" and suggest that the country has no right to take actions -- perfectly legal under international rules governing the management of patents on medicines -- to provide medicines to its people.
In issuing a compulsory license, Thailand is heeding the advice of the World Bank and others to utilize WTO rules to produce less-expensive generic medicines in order to provide HIV/AIDS treatment to the estimated 200,000 people in the country -- a place where we have firsthand experience -- who need it. AIDS treatment costs are on the rise with second-line anti-retroviral medicines costing at best 5 times the price of the current first-line treatments and, in countries like Thailand, as much as 22 times!
The WTO rules are extremely clear. Countries can determine the grounds for issuing a compulsory license. It is a common misunderstanding perpetuated by editorials like yours that they can only be used in the case of an emergency.
The rules also state that prior negotiations with the patent holder are waived if a compulsory license is granted for non-commercial use -- as is the case in Thailand -- in case of national emergency or other cases of extreme urgency or to remedy anti-competitive practices, something your editorial chooses to ignore.
Next, saying that "no serious government has contemplated using compulsory licensing, even if it is allowed under WTO rules", you have overlooked the five compulsory licenses issued by the United States since June 2006, for applications as diverse as the automobile industry, satellite TV, computer software, or indeed medical devices.
Pharmaceutical research and development is costly, and somebody does need to pay. But in today's system that person is the patient -- if you can't come up with the cash, the drugs you need are not developed and you will not get treated. Relying on patents does not foster the necessary research to address the needs of billions of people in developing countries, as the authoritative CIPIH report of the WHO recently proved.
We must find new ways to stimulate pharmaceutical innovation based on the real health needs and access to new products for all who need them. But we will never achieve this by vilifying those who are fighting for this or perpetuating falsehoods about international trade agreements as the Wall Street Journal has chosen to do.
Christophe Fournier, MD, International President
Ellen't Hoen, LLM, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)
> For the chronology of the lawsuit between the Netherlands Government and MSF, please click on this link.