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Affordable Drug Policy Must Remain Intact, Says Oxfam

By Oxfam

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WASHINGTON, DC ? The Thai government should keep the country?s successful policy on affordable medicines intact during its talks with US this week on copyright protection, said international agency Oxfam. A delegation of Thai officials, due to meet with business groups and the US government over the country?s intellectual property rights policy this week in Washington, will unveil a new ?action plan? that will detail how the country will address US demands. Oxfam urged that this plan should not include any pledges that can change course on the drug policy, otherwise life and well-being of millions of poor people will be compromised.

The Thai government?s plan is seen as an attempt to upgrade Thailand from the Priority Watch List to a better trade status with the US who has downgraded the country for the last two years. The US cited copyright violations of American computer software, movie and music products, pharmaceuticals and other copyrighted materials. It specifically mentioned Thailand?s issuance of compulsory licenses, since November 2006, for patented medicines to treat HIV/AIDS, heart disease and cancer.

?The Thai government must safeguard its people first by offering copyright protection improvements in other areas which will not affect life and well-being of the poor,? said Yowalak Thiarachow, Oxfam?s Thailand Country Director.

Compulsory licensing is perfectly legal under the World Trade Organizations? rules and national law, and has been carried out in many countries. The WTO?s intellectual property agreement provides all countries the right to override patent protection to introduce affordable, generic versions of medicines that help protect public health.

?Any pledges undermining access to affordable medicines including a decision to stop the compulsory licensing policy will block poor people?s access to life-saving medicines that can be made affordable in the future,? said Ms Yowalak.

As the government wavers whether or not to overturn a decision to make HIV and AIDS, heart disease and cancer medicines more affordable to its poorest communities, Oxfam calls on the Thai delegation not to bend to US pressure.

?If there was a time for the Thai government to show political courage, it is now. Even in the face of immense pressure by the US government and the multinational pharmaceutical industry, Thailand?s decision to abandon its compulsory licensing program would be inexcusable,? said Ms Yowalak.

Oxfam policy advisor Rohit Malpani said in Washington that it makes little sense for the Thai government to change course since the country has successfully resisted multinational pharmaceutical industry and US pressure.

?We?ve also seen some positive movement from the US, with Congress making some important changes on the access to medicines front in the free trade agreements with Panama, Peru and Colombia to ensure that US trade policy does not merely favor the narrow interests of the multinational pharmaceutical industry,? said Malpani.

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