Thailand's licensing policy wavers25th March 2008
The removal of a top official by the incoming Thai health minister has signalled possible problems for the country's compulsory licence policy, doctors say.
Doctors are leading an unprecedented campaign to remove the health minister and prevent the policy, which ensures a supply of cheap, generic drugs to treat major killer diseases like HIV/AIDS will be manufactured.
Thailand started issuing the licences in 2006 for seven drugs, including two common AIDS drugs, but the new government, installed in February, has come under increasing pressure from big Western pharmaceuticals to back off the policy, which targets patented drugs which would not be otherwise affordable.
Public health minister Chaiya Sasomsap first announced that he would review the policy, following concerns over trade tensions with Thailand's trade partners, such as the United States.
Then, the head of the Thai Food and Drug Administration, Siriwat Tiptaradol, was suddenly transferred to a dummy role in the ministry which has no decision-making power, that of ministry inspector.
As chairman of the ministry's compulsory licence drug negotiation panel, Tiptaradol was a key player in the negotiations over generic drugs deals with pharmaceutical companies.
He was in charge of approving the registration and withdrawal of drugs in Thailand, as well as finding the generic drugs to replace those for which the government had issued a compulsory licence; positions which gave him considerable weight during those negotiations.
The transfer came out of a clear blue sky, with no reason given, according to Tiptaradol, who has lodged an appeal with the Civil Service Commission to reverse the transfer.
Thai doctors fear the move is part of a wider strategy to scrap the compulsory licence policy, amid mounting rumours that the transfers of more officials involved in the policy are planned.
The Rural Doctors Society is hoping to collect enough signatures on a public petition -- 20,000 are needed -- to trigger a parliamentary review to remove Sasomsap from office. So far, 12,000 people have signed the petition.
Former Thai senator Jon Ungpakorn urged the public to monitor the health ministry's moves closely. He said compulsory licensing was necessary to ensure access to affordable, life-saving drugs.
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