Published on February 22, 2008
An Indian pharmaceutical firm has decided against exporting heart-disease drugs to Thailand due to the new Cabinet's unstable policies over compulsory licensing, which in turn has had a severe impact on more than 30,000 patients nationwide.
"These patients are poor and cannot afford drugs at normal prices. They have been surviving on cheap drugs distributed under the universal healthcare scheme. But there has been a shortage of the drugs since last January," said Saree Aongsomwang, manager of the Foundation for Consumers.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, she said India-based Cadila Health Care had stopped exporting its first lot of heart-disease drugs to Thailand despite the orders placed by the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) last year.
According to Saree, Cadila Health Care said it had come to this decision because of the new government's unsettled policies on the enforcement of licensing of cancer drugs.
Saree said the decision would have a severe impact on 34,000 heart patients registered under the universal healthcare scheme.
"Patients are waiting for the life-saving drugs and it is the Health Ministry's responsibility to provide them with these essential drugs," she said.
The patients' network has also asked the Commerce Ministry to stop misleading the public about the cutting of the Generalised System of Preferences and the United States' petition to the World Trade Organisation over Thailand's enforcement of compulsory licensing.
"Thailand also could file a petition against the US because every action taken by the previous government followed domestic and international laws," Saree said.
Dr Wichai Chokewiwat, chairman of the Health Ministry's compulsory licensing committee and board president of the GPO, said a high-level executive of Cadila Health Care had confirmed that the first lot of heart-disease drugs would be imported to Thailand in late March.
However, Wichai added that this was not entirely certain because the Indian firm was also facing threats from patent holders, which made it afraid of signing a contract with Thailand.
The Health Ministry is currently drafting a contract with Indian pharmaceutical firm Dabur for the breast and lung-cancer drug docetaxel.
Wichai has also urged the new government to immediately start importing leukaemia drug imatinib. The drug is offered for free by Novartis under its Glivec International Patient Assistance Programme.
Letrozole, used to treat breast cancer, and erlotinib, used for lung cancer, are currently being registered with the Food and Drug Administration. Wichai said the GPO would start providing these drugs right after they have been registered.
Nimit Thienudome, director of the Aids Access Foundation, said he and 10 representatives from the patients' network would today meet a senior official from the Health Ministry to determine the exact number of cancer patients in Thailand, as well as the cost of treating them.
This information, based on data from the National Health Security Office and the National Cancer Institute, will be key to calculating the amount of drugs that need to be imported.
Previous health minister Mongkol Na Songkla had enforced compulsory licensing on three cancer drugs: docetaxel, produced by Sanofi-Aventis; erlotinib, manufactured by Roche; and lectrozole, made by Novartis.
The ministry had initially intended to also impose licensing on imatinib, but manufacturer Novartis proposed that the drug be included in the national healthcare scheme, which covers 48 million patients who earn no more than Bt1.7 million annually.