Thai MoH's undeclared interest: its profit-making pharma operation
The letter published in the last edition of The Lancet under the title "WHO's web-based public hearings: hijacked by pharma?" expresses surprise that patient groups could advocate "pro-IP" views in internet submissions ahead of last week's WHO Inter Governmental Working Group. It goes on to imply this could only have happened because of the "pharmaceutical industry compromising patient advocacy groups".
If the authors of the paper seek to present this as an issue, it is because they are firmly on the "anti-IP" side of the IGWG debate, but the authors conclude their letter by declaring that they have no conflict of interest.
The first author listed is Suwit Wilbulpolprasert, who correctly presents himself as an employee of the Ministry of Health, Nonthaburi, Thailand. The Thai Ministry of Health owns the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO), the role of which is to manufacture and import medicines and sell them for profit.(1) The GPO made a net profit of one billion baht ($30.8 million) on revenues of 5 billion baht ($154.1 million) in 2005, according to former deputy health minister Anuthin Charnveerakul.(2)
The compulsory licenses that the Thai MoH has issued in the last year allow the GPO to import and sell for profit generic copies of two antiretrovirals and one cardiovascular medicine still under patent. This move raised an international furor and the Thai MoH has so far refrained from implementing its publicly stated intention to implement further compulsory licenses. Any outcome of the WHO IGWG which endorses expanded use of compulsory licensing would support the Thai MoH in issuing more such licenses and so help GPO to increase its profit-making activities. Dr. Wilbulpolprasert's declaration of no conflict of interest does not hold up.
I declare the following interests: I head the international R&D-based pharmaceutical industry association, which believes that adequate intellectual property protection is an essential prerequisite for innovation in medicines and the improvement of global health outcomes. The R&D pharmaceutical industry also believes that patients' voices should be heard in discussions about health policy, and is prepared to contribute financially to help permit this, while accepting that patient groups are free to express their own opinions, even when these might be critical of the industry.
Dr. Harvey Bale
International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations
For more on this issue, see our November 16th blog entry, "Compulsory Hypocrisy" here:
As H.L. Mencken once said, when someone says it isn't about money, it's about money.