Monday, July 12, 2004

'A Thai Woman's Fight for AIDS Drugs for All'

In honor of the World AIDS summit in Thailand this week, I offer this report that I heard on NPR this morning:

Among developing countries, Thailand is second only to Brazil when it comes providing universal access to AIDS drugs. One Thai woman, Krisana Kraisintu, took on government officials and multinational pharmaceuticals to make this drug availability possible. Now she's setting her sights on Africa's AIDS crisis.

One of the more notable aspects for me was her battle with Bristol Meyers over whether a certain AIDS drug was under their patent, preventing her development and distribution of less expensive, generic forms. She argued that because the drug was developed by government scientists, she was free to continue her work. The drug company finally backed down.

I've discussed this topic at length with a close friend who works in the pharmaceutical industry. I understand the balance: sure, drugs, once developed and proven, should be easily accessible - but if you don't let companies recoup R&D investments (which are still, if I understand it correctly, heavily subsidized and have lots of attractive tax incentives), they'll simply stop aiming for medical advances. Altruism v. Capitalism, round 87,234,534.

Update: Here's one globetrotting columnist's take on the meeting:

Here's the real story of this conference: the emerging anti-AIDS agenda is about the whittling away -- even the wiping out entirely -- of all patents on all AIDS drugs. That is, making free drugs for all poor people, starting with AIDS. And then, activists hope, the progressive march will trample over patents covering tuberculosis and malaria drugs. And after that, in this bright new world, maybe all drugs should "open-sourced." . . .

So what to do about AIDS? "If the governments of the world want HIV drugs at reduced cost, then they should pay for them," comes Hansch's answer. "If they want to force companies to do research, give them money." For his part, he would dig deep into the world's collective pocket to pay for additional health care for the poor and the imperiled.

Okay, so, there's another side to the one in the NPR article for sure. I suppose my residual Claremont-ness demands I heed the economic concerns of "open-sourcing" privately developed drugs. I can see both sides and don't know where I come down on things.

Guess we're already on round 87,234,535.

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