Thursday, July 05, 2007

An evening with the man who fought the drug giants

Mongkol na Songkhla appeared at The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand on Wednasday night. The minister announced that "no more than three, probably two" further drugs would be introduced with compulsory licencing (CL).

Mongkol na Songkhla introduced himself with an apology for his "broken" English and spoke to foreign journalists and members of Thai drug network groups regarding CL, GP factories and pressure from foreign lobbying groups.

The doctor said CL was introduced "for the poor people" and confirmed some foreign lobbying groups had pressured him but refused to give any names. When asked why other countries such as poorer African nations did not use CL, the minister said that "one or two" countries had approached Thailand for advice on implementing CL, but no names were given.

Minister Mongkol also claimed he had encouraged drug patent holding companies to launch in Thailand with "new" or "high quality" drugs.

The minister appeared to make an error of speech when discussing "family" condoms. As he explained the system of encouraging married couples to use condoms he stated "we recommend condoms to three year olds".

He also announced that a planned GPO standard factory construction under the Thaksin regime had been scrapped due to "corruption". Drugs from India produced in a WHO standard factory was not an option, as Thailand should produce its own, he said. A reporter questioned if this was not a case of allowing national pride to interfere with best choice for patients.

Monkul was hailed as "a hero" by AIDS support activists and members of Thai Drug users networks.

Throughout the night he made several references to conversations with Mechai Viravaidya and plans for condom and HIV prevention campaigns.

Minister Mongkol na Songkhla created a storm of controversy early this year when he introduced compulsory licencing on HIV drugs. The decision created a vexed backlash from pharmaceutical giants such as Abbott Laboratories. The minister later claimed he had suffered from great stress as a result of the pressure created by the backlash.

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