Standing up to Big Pharma, knowing the law and the facts

Sally C. Pipes’s Oct. 18 op-ed, “Don’t commend theft of AIDS drug patents,” is rife with misstatements of fact and law.

First, Thailand is not “stealing” from U.S. drug companies — it is using a lawful flexibility permitting a generic producer to make medicines for public non-commercial use in Thailand’s public healthcare system. This flexibility is lawful under international law, under Thai law in effect when each of the aggrieved drug companies first filed their patent applications in Thailand, and under comparable U.S. law.
Second, Thailand has never rejected an offer of free Efavirenz from the Global Fund. …

Third, Pipes claims that Thailand is trying to develop its own drug business by having the Government Pharmaceutical Organization manufacture the licensed drugs. However, each and every licensed medicine is actually sourced from generic manufacturers in India. Although Thailand hopes to build a world-class pharmaceutical plant, it has not done so yet, nor would it be inappropriate [for it to do so].

Fourth, Pipes claims that the TRIPS Agreement allows compulsory licenses only for some countries and only in the case of health emergencies. Both of these claims are legally inaccurate; every member of the WTO, including the U.S., has the right to issue compulsory licenses on any grounds it deem appropriate.

Fifth, Pipes claims that drug innovation will come to a crashing halt if Thailand issues compulsory licenses. To the contrary, not only has Thailand left 20 percent of its health system open to patent holders’ higher-priced goods, but Thailand comprises a minuscule portion of the global pharmaceutical market. None of these drug companies will have their high-markup, monopoly-priced sales in rich-country markets affected, and it is in these markets that drug companies earn 87 percent of their income.

Like Pipes says, patents are the goose that lays golden eggs for drug companies. However, poorer countries like Thailand cannot afford to pay gold-standard prices for medicines needed to treat hundreds of thousands of sick Thais. Instead of condemning members of Congress who stand up for developing countries’ right to exercise exceptions to patent rules that the United States has agreed to on multiple occasions, we should congratulate those rare politicians who are willing to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry’s political machine.


Questioning morality
From Matt Jorat

(Regarding article, “Pelosi vows another SCHIP vote after GOP sustains Bush’s veto,” Oct. 19.) I will not argue for or against the merits of SCHIP. This issue has been exhaustively deliberated already. Instead, I would like you to ponder the following observations.

First, it is common wisdom that the result of the last presidential election was determined mostly through the support of religious conservatives. According to many studies including a 2006 survey by Baylor University, over 80 percent of Americans identify themselves as spiritual and, thus, moral. I find it fascinating that in the most religious and faithful first-world country, where the moral majority establishes the direction of the nation, it is still possible for a poor child not to receive healthcare. Where’s the morality in that?

Second, we are in the midst of a prolonged and costly conflict. However justified its cause may be, war — always and by its very nature — results in death, destruction, and anguish. It is utterly hypocritical to spend over $100 billion per year on war, while obstructing $35 billion, spread over five years, toward life, health and happiness.

Finally, members of Congress and the administration enjoy a generously funded federal healthcare plan. Rejecting SCHIP under the scheme of progressing America toward private healthcare (rather than a federally subsidized one) seems, at best, disingenuous.

Dublin, Ohio