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Switzerland attacks access to medicines in Thailand

25. April 2008

The Berne Declaration (BD) and 20 health Thai and Swiss NGOs* denounced the pressure exerted by Switzerland on the Thai Government. Switzerland asked Thailand to restrict its compulsory licences policy after the Thai Government had granted compulsory licences on medicines from Roche and Novartis. In compliance with international law, compulsory licences allow local production or importation of more affordable generic versions of patented medicines without the patent holder’s consent. This tool was recently introduced by Switzerland in its own patent law. The NGOs strongly ask the Swiss Government to stop its attacks against access to medicines in Thailand and to meet its commitments.

In the past, Switzerland has often underlined its respect of the right of developing countries to use the flexibilities afforded by the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (thereafter: the TRIPS Agreement) in order to protect public health in their country. This principle is stipulated by the 2001 Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and public health, which was signed by Switzerland. However, when a developing country uses this flexibility to grant compulsory licences on medicines owned by Swiss corporations, Switzerland does not meet its commitments. To the contrary, the Swiss Government protests and advocates limiting the use of compulsory licences.

In reaction to the compulsory licences on Roche and Novartis medicines issued by Thailand in January 2008, the Swiss Government handed in an “Aid mémoire” (dated February 25th) to the Thai Government, asking it to review its compulsory licences policy (to restrict compulsory licences to particular circumstances, to use it only for specific public health problems and as a last resort).

In a letter sent on 17th April, the Berne Declaration and 20 Swiss and Thai NGOs reminded the Swiss Government of its duty to respect Thailand’s right to use the tools provided by the TRIPS Agreement, and to issue compulsory licences for public health. In brief, Switzerland must stop exerting pressure on Thailand to dissuade it from issuing compulsory licences. Switzerland’s policy is difficult to understand, since the country has recently introduced within its legislation the possibility to issue compulsory licences against the prohibitive prices of diagnostics tests.*The following organisations in Switzerland and in Thailand have signed-on the letter:
aidsfocus.ch - the Swiss platform “HIV/AIDS and international cooperation”, Berne Declaration, Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines - Médecins Sans Frontières International (MSF) in Geneva, Centrale Sanitaire Suisse Romande (CSSR), MIVA Schweiz, Pharmaciens Sans Frontières Suisse, SolidarMed, Swiss League against Cancer

Thailand : AIDS ACCESS Foundation, Alternative Agriculture Network, Foundation for AIDS Rights (FAR), Friends of Cancer Patients, Friends of Renal Failure Patients, Rural Pharmacist Foundation, Thai network of people living with HIV/AIDS (TNP+), Thai NGOs Coalition on AIDS, Thai Rural Doctors society, Foundation for Consumers, FTA Watch, Oxfam Great Britain in Thailand.

Context

Since 2001, Thailand attempts to provide free healthcare for its people. Thailand’s HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment programme in response to HIV/AIDS is a model for other countries. The success of these efforts have allowed one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, with over 600,000 people infected, to bring the spread of the disease under control, as well as to provide treatment to an ever increasing number of those in need of it. Thailand’s response to the problem of high drug prices, and the impact of patented medicines on the public health budget, has been to examine the price of patented medicines, conduct price negotiations with pharmaceutical companies, and if needed, to issue compulsory licences that authorise, without the patent holder’s consent, the production or importation of more affordable generic versions. In November 2006 and January 2007, the Thai government issued compulsory licences for HIV/AIDS medicines. Such compulsory licences have brought about a considerable reduction in the price of these drugs, freeing up resources for the public health system, and thereby ensuring access to these medicines for patients who until had to do without it. Claiming a yearly toll of over 30,000 lives, cancer is one of the most important causes of mortality in Thailand. In January 2008, the Thai government issued further compulsory licences on some anti-cancer drugs (two from Novartis, one from Roche, one from Sanofi-Aventis). Compulsory licences are allowed by Article 31 of the TRIPS Agreement. The Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and public health adopted in November 2001 states that: “Each [WTO] Member has the right to grant compulsory licences and the freedom to determine the grounds upon which such licences are granted”.




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