Thailand receives reputation boost on health front

Clinton and Thai Health Minister (picture credit: Bangkok Post)I know that my past two posts on Thailand expressed serious concerns regarding the country’s reputation both in the region and around the world.  Its desultory progress toward restoring democracy and the retrogressive tactic to ban YouTube did it no favor.  However, there is one area where I think the country is bold and progressive, and that is its decision to break the patents of some prohibitively expensive HIV medications so that its HIV-positive citizens can have affordable access to medications that could save their lives.  Earlier this year, Thailand issued licenses for affordable generic versions of Abbott’s Kaletra for HIV (while Brazildid likewise with Merck’s Efavirenz).

In response, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry galvanized against Thailand, engaging lobbyist groups such as USA for Innovation to put pressure on the American government to take punitive measures against Bangkok.  In late-March,  the U.S. Office of Trade Representative in Washington downgraded the country to the Priority Watch List for its IP trangressions, according to Bangkok’s The Nation.

Thailand’s case received a significant boost yesterday when former U.S. President Bill Clinton standing side-by-side Thailand’s Public Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla, gave his backing to both countries’ decision to break the patents.  Unequivocal, Clinton averred, “I strongly support the position of the governments of Thailand and Brazil and their decision after futile negotiations to break these patents.”  See a Bangkok Post report here and a Reuters story here.

Thailand right now suffers a credibility issue.  In areas where the government is doing the right and just things, I think this is just what it needs to do in terms of public relations to get the message out, i.e. locate and nurture well-respected leaders to lend their weight to the given cause or issue.

Another point here…yes, the pharmaceutical giants may have the budget to retain public relations titans and sophisticated lobbying interests to push their causes, but on the ground, there is a grassroots movement to protest what is seen as naked avarice on the part of some of these drug companies.  In April, a group of students from Harvard University staged a protest outside Abbott’s facility in Wocester against its decision not to allow Thailand to produce generics of Kaletra and its pulling out of other vital AIDS medications from the Thai market.  After speeches were made, the students staged a “die-in,” where the “denied prescription” was carried past the protestors, who then fell to the groundin mock death.  Similar protests took place in Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Austin, and other key American cities.  Read an article from The Harvard Crimson here.

Oh, and on the YouTube ban, well, here’s the latest…Google has blinked, apparently.  The Bangkok Post has reported that the company has written to Thailand’s information minister pledging to remove all “anti-monarchy” video clips from its video-sharing subsidiary.  Read the Bangkok Post story here.

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