KEI Letter to Thailand Prime Minister and Health Minister, regarding compulsory licensing decisions

His Excellency
Mr. Samak Sundaravej
Prime Minister
Government House
Nakornpratom Rd.
Dusit, Bangkok
Thailand 10300

His Excellency
Mr. Chaiya Sasomsap
Minister of Public Health
Tiwanont Rd.
Talad Kwan District
Nontaburi Province 11000

March 4, 2008

Re: Thailand Compulsory Licenses and public health

Dear Prime Minister Sundaravej and Minister of Public Health Chaiya Sasomsap:

We are writing to address an issue of the utmost importance.  Specifically, we urge the Thailand government to support its earlier decision to use TRIPS flexibilities and issue compulsory licenses on medicine patents.

Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) is a not-for-profit organization based in Washington, DC and with offices in Geneva and London, with extensive experience in providing technical assistance to governments and international organizations in the promotion of public health and advocating for the protection of patient interests.

Every sovereign government that grants patents on inventions also provides mechanisms for compulsory licenses.  While the grounds for issuing a compulsory license differs from country to country, there is widespread agreement that such licenses are consistent with international law, particularly in, but not limited to, cases involving public health.

We are attaching a report on the use of compulsory licenses by other countries.  It not only reports on compulsory licenses on medicines in developing countries, but also on the granting of compulsory licenses in high income countries, such as three recent compulsory licenses on medicines issued in Italy, and dozens of compulsory licenses issued in other fields of technology, such as software, digital television receivers, and automatic transmissions.

The United States will soon have a new president.  All three of the leading candidates, Senators McCain, Obama and Clinton, are critics of the pharmaceutical industry.  All three candidates care about access to medicine, and all three candidates are looking to repair and enhance the standing of the United States in the world community.  Thailand should not assume that it will suffer if it stands by its earlier decision to issue compulsory licenses.

On the other hand, if Thailand now backs down and cancels the compulsory licenses, it will be perceived as an acknowledgment that Thailand did something wrong earlier.  It will make it much more difficult to issue compulsory licenses in the future, and it will undermine the relationship between Thailand and suppliers of generic medicines.  If Thailand reverses its position, other developing countries will be deterred from using compulsory licenses, and Thailand will be seen as aligning itself with large pharmaceutical companies, against the interests of the poor.

Members of the U.S. Congress are monitoring the USTR and the Department of State to ensure that the US government respects the 2001 Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health, and does not bully Thailand on this issue.  Many public health and development organizations, including KEI, are supportive of the use of compulsory licenses to increase access to medicines in developing countries.   Thailand has much to gain by supporting it’s earlier decision, and very much to lose by repudiating that decision.


James Love
Knowledge Ecology International