Bags containing the ashes of cremated AIDS patients are piled high at a shire near the main ward of an AIDS hospice at Wat Pra Bhat Nam Phu in Lopburi, Thailand.
The ashes are the unclaimed remains of countless AIDS patients who have died at Wat Pra Bhat Nam Phu over the years. In many rural areas of Thailand the stigma of AIDS is widespread, so relatives generally do not claim the ashes. World AIDS Day is observed on Dec 1st.
Thailand has courageously (and rightly) decided to defy the copyright claims of the american drug industry by allowing cheaper copies of the anti-AIDS medecine Efavirenz to be manufactured. Lives should be saved at all costs - although I admit that does ring a little hollow in the wake of Thaksin's 2500 street executions during his 'War on Drugs' nightmare.
The price of Efavirenz in Thailand will be only a quarter of that demanded by the americans under the proposed terms of their 'Free' Trade Agreement (FTA). At the current market price, only one-in-four patients in Thailand has access to Efavirenz. Compulsory licensing of the drug is expected to enable the National Health Security Office to increase the number of HIV-infected people who receive the drug through state channels to about 100,000, a substantial increase from the current 25,000 people with AIDS who now are helped. There are over one million people living with HIV/AIDs in Thailand, about half of them need to use the anti-viral treatments.
Under the agreement, the patent owner would be paid 0.5 per cent of sales from the GPO as compensation. Thai patent law allows state enforced compulsory licensing in the case of drugs being critically needed to save people’s lives, providing that the state is unable to afford to subsidise them. Hey, fair's fair - america is already the world's richest nation so should well be in a position to make a little (enforced) karmic merit, yes/no?
The state genuinely can't afford to subsidise, especially at american prices... ex-PM Thaksin has stolen so much money that Thailand's Budget is now positively anorexic. To put this into perspective, you need to remember that Thaksin illegally 'acquired' 73 billion baht from the illegal sale of Shin Corp to Singapore's Temasek (let alone all his other dodgy dealings). By comparison, this year the new Thai government has been able to stretch its HIV budget allocation up to almost 4 billion baht, thereby boosting assistance to another 120,000 HIV sufferers in most urgent need.
If our "Take-from-the-Poor-and-give-to-the-Rich" Mr Thaksin had so chosen, he could have easily supplied all one million of Thailand's HIV patients with anti-retroviral drugs and STILL have had enough dosh left over to purchase the London Stock Exchange, plus a ranch in Texas. Khít wâa thai mâi rák thai, châi mái?