But concerns remain that access to medicines is threatened by trade negotiations
Bangkok, Thailand, February 13, 2004 - The recent court victory of two Thai people living with HIV/AIDS against a multinational pharmaceutical company is described in an article published in today's Lancet medical journal.
The Thai case could have important international consequences. The ruling was based on the fact that patientswhose health and lives can depend on being able to afford a medicineare injured by patents and have legal standing to sue.
The court case, which was concluded in January, overturned the patent on an AIDS drug held by the pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb. This opens the way for generic production of the medicine.
"The ability to treat AIDS depends entirely on the availability of affordable medicines," said Dr. David Wilson, medical coordinator of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Thailand. "Patents must be challenged whenever they limit access to medicines, and patients themselves have a very important role to play."
"This victory is the result of years or work by people with AIDS in Thailand," said Kamon Uppakaew, chairman of the Thai Network of People living with HIV/AIDS. "We will continue to fight for our basic human right to access the medicines we need, and hope that people in other countries can benefit from our experiences."
The Thai government currently produces a range of generic medicines that are up to 25 times cheaper than the brand version. However, a number of AIDS drugs are patent protected and these drugs are still too expensive.
The Lancet article describes how US trade pressure has limited access to affordable medicines by strengthening patent protection on pharmaceuticals. Current bilateral negotiations between the US and Thailand could further worsen the situation. In Central America and elsewhere, the US government is pushing for tighter patent protection for medicines, undermining country's obligations under the WTO to protect public health.
According to Ms Saree Aongsomwang, manager of the Foundation for Consumers in Thailand "intellectual property should be excluded from these discussions altogether."
Ms Saree added that there needs to be much more transparency in the process: "At the moment it is impossible to get a clear picture of what is happening. Many people in Thailand think the trade talks will only bring benefits - they need to know what they stand to loose. Civil society has to be involved during the process, not simply informed when it is too late."