Well it appears that the Financial Times is not alone in mentioning that the Thai government is not a democracy every time they discuss the mandatory licensing issue. It seems as if there might be a co-ordinated talking point memo out there somewhere, no?
The close of the International Aids Society Conference in Sydney ended the publicity train of posturing activists and non-government organisations. In the conference’s wake, it is time to refocus on ensuring access to HIV/AIDS medicines for the world’s poor through real solutions, not political catchphrases.
Two groups particularly active last week in Sydney have provided poignant examples of how discussion about serious science and public policy can be outshined by ideological PR campaigns.
The executive director, Andrew Hewett, argued in ABC News Online that Thailand provides a “model” for dealing with treatment of HIV/AIDS.
What exactly is that model? The military junta which seized control of Thailand earlier this year [emphasis added by EF] has nationalised the patents of a series of vital drugs.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation is to be applauded in one respect though: this piece is clearly marked as an opinion piece, whereas in the Financial Times, similar text was run as part of a news story.
There are certain sentiments Tim expresses that I find very commendable, especially his disdain for “how discussion about serious science and public policy can be outshined [sic] by ideological PR campaigns.” His statement that “it is time to refocus on ensuring access to HIV/AIDS medicines for the world’s poor through real solutions, not political catchphrases.” is something everyone can agree with, I would think.
These insights are, unfortunately, extremely short-lived, as just after making them he almost immediately states: “The junta which seized control of Thailand earlier this year has nationalised the patents of a series of vital drugs.”
First, it is clear that the term ‘junta’ contains emotive associations which, correct or not, are indicative of quite a bit of ‘posturing’ on Tim’s part. However, I will grant that he is, in this instance, factually correct. I do question his motivations for including this piece of information about the Thai government in that particular place. Is the fact that Thailand has a military-installed government somehow relevant to their stance on compulsory licensing? Are the Thais opposed to this policy, and is the military out stopping the anti-compulsory licensing protests that are just waiting to take place, were Thailand not ruled by a “junta?” Is their some special reason why Brazil, a democracy going down a very similar road vis-a-vis compulsory licensing, is an exception to some ‘compulsory licensing can only happen under a military installed government’ rule? All these questions go unanswered in the article.
However, much more troubling is the use of the word ‘nationalised’ which, although it suits Tim’s ideologically-charged style of writing, is not factual. Nothing has been nationalised. The patents were made subject to compulsory licensing. The companies still own those patents, and they will still get paid a royalty for each pill produced. That royalty will be fixed in accordance with Thai law.
As a side note, there were also some comments to the article which provided a series of references to T.R.I.P.S. provisions and Thai laws. IANAL, however, here are the comments of Mathew Rimmer:
“The TRIPS Agreement 1994 explicitly recognises that “members may… adopt measures necessary to protect public health and nutrition”. Those measures include compulsory licensing, parallel importation, research exemptions, and exclusions of certain subject matter.”
“The Thai Government’s position is defensible under both domestic and international law. It is relying upon section 51 (2) of the Thai Patent Act to engage in compulsory licensing. The provision stipulates:
“In order to carry out any service for public consumption or which is of vital importance to the defense of the country or for the preservation or realization of natural resources or the environment or to prevent or relieve a severe shortage of food, drugs or other consumption items or for any other public service, any ministry, bureau or department of the Government may, by themselves or through others, exercise any right under Section 36 by paying a royalty to the patentee or his exclusive licensee under paragraph 2 of Section 48 and shall notify the patentee in writing without delay, notwithstanding the provisions of Section 46, 46 bis and 47.”
It seems to be a perfectly valid exercise of this power to seek compulsory licenses in respect of Efavirenz, Lopinavir, Ritonavir, and Clopidogrel.”
So, if the citations are not correct, I would expect Tim Wilson to post follow-ups to Mathew’s comments. In the meantime, it seems that those who oppose compulsory licensing have reverted to a war of innuendo and Sideways Adjectives.
We should all look forward to an end to this, because, as Tim notes “it is time to refocus on ensuring access to HIV/AIDS medicines for the world’s poor through real solutions, not political catchphrases.”