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[e-drug] DPA, Nation: Thai activists attack drug ban

E-DRUG: DPA, Nation: Thai activists attack drug ban

Sydney (dpa)

Activists supporting HIV-positive people in Thailand demanded Tuesday at an
international Aids conference in Australia that Abbott Laboratories stop
blocking the distribution of critical Aids drugs.

Abbott and the Thai government have been embroiled in a long-standing
battle over the costs of antiretroviral treatment, which enable those with
HIV/Aids to live longer and more effective lives.

Thai activists claimed Abbott was blocking the distribution of Aluvia, a
second-line drug crucial for those already developing resistance to
first-generation treatment.

Aluvia is the only drug of its kind in the developing world, and is both
heat resistant and food-independent. It can be stored without refrigeration
and doesn't need to be taken with food, an important feature in
poverty-stricken countries.

"For Thai people with resistant HIV, access to Aluvia is not a luxury. It
is vital," said Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul of the Thai Network of People
Living with HIV/Aids and also a campaigner for medical humanitarian
organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres.

At the end of Tuesday's morning plenary attended by thousands of people,
Kannikar appealed to scientists, researchers and politicians at the 4th
International Aids Society Conference on Pathogenesis, Treatment and
Prevention to sign a petition and support the cause of positive Thai

Thailand has approximately 500,000 people living with HIV/Aids, of whom
80,000 are on antiretroviral therapy. Of these, 8,000 have developed
resistance to the toxic drugs and need to be put on second-line therapy,
Kannikar said.

The cost of these drugs is becoming a major issue in the capacity of
Aids-affected countries to deliver widespread and equitable treatment and

After several failed negotiations with Abbott since 2005, Thailand issued a
compulsory license in January to overcome a patent barrier on second-line
drug Lopinavir/Ritonavir. This enabled the country to either legally import
it or produce it locally.

This was in keeping with World Bank recommendations that Thailand procure
cheaper, generic versions of Lopinavir, activists said.

"In February, Abbott announced that unless the Thai government grants it an
absolute monopoly on sales of Lopinavir, without any generic competition,
then it would effect a blockade of Aluvia against all Thai Aids patients,"
Kannikar said.

Earlier, on Sunday, Abbott CEO Jean-Yves Pavee met with HIV activists from
Thailand and HIV-positive group, Act-Up Paris. While it dropped a lawsuit
against Act-Up for an attack on the Abbott website, the blockade against
Aluvia continues.

"I'm living with HIV, and a few years ago an HIV drug by Abbott saved my
life," Act-Up president Hugues Fischer said after the meeting. "From my
point of view, for Abbott to be deliberately preventing the Thais from
procuring a lifesaving HIV medicine is tantamount to murder."

According to an MSF report released Monday, entitled "Untangling the Web of
Price Reductions," there have been dramatic price reductions for
second-line drugs over the past year - largely a result of the compulsory
license issued by Thailand.

The costs plummeted from $2,800 to $695 per year.

"But this is still far too expensive for the majority of people in
Thailand, where the average annual salary is $1,600 per year," Kannikar
said earlier.

Thailand is often upheld as a model of HIV treatment across the developing
world, with its early campaigns for universal access to treatment, while
simultaneously rolling out massive education and prevention programmes.

The Sydney Aids conference, which opened Sunday, features the latest
developments in biomedical prevention, treatment and clinical practice.

Abbott's move fails to appease activists
The decision of Abbott Laboratories to drop a lawsuit against a group of
French HIV/Aids activists has not appeased the international lobby.

Published on July 24, 2007

It has vowed to continue battling the pharmaceutical giant until it lifts a
blockade of HIV medication in Thailand.

"We are going to continue fighting and there might be more lawsuits to come
because the reason people living with HIV/Aids are being threatened by
Abbott in the first place has not been addressed. We need to continue to
address the problem," said Nathan Ford, a drug-access campaigner with
Medecins Sans Frontieres.

The company decided on Sunday to drop its case after chief executive
Jean-Yves Pavee met with ACT UP Paris and the Thai Network of People Living
with HIV.

The meeting was arranged by the International Aids Society and took place
here where the Third Ministerial Meeting on HIV/Aids is going on.

However, Khalil Elouardighi, of ACT UP Paris, said the company's decision
came from nowhere; no one asked the company to drop the litigation.

"What we wanted to talk to the company about was its withdrawal of Aluvia
from Thailand, not the litigation facing us. The company did not have time
to talk to us about our issue," he said.

Aluvia is the heat-stable version of a life-saving medication made by

For activists like Ford, Elouardighi and others, including Wirat Purahong
of the network, a lawsuit against people with HIV is minor compared with
ensuring these people have access to life-saving medicine.

"Access to Aluvia for Thai Aids patients is a thousand times more important
than access to Abbott's corporate website," said Wirat.

Abbott sued ACT UP Paris on May 23 in response to the group's attack on the
company's website. The so-called "net-strike", initiated by ACT UP Paris,
occurred worldwide on April 26 by activists protesting the company's
withdrawal of Aluvia from registration in Thailand.

Abbott withdrew the drug early this year in retaliation for the
government's imposition of compulsory licensing which allows it, via World
Trade Organisation rules, to purchase or manufacture cheaper, generic
versions of Kaletra, an HIV treatment made by Abbott.

Medecins Sans Frontieres yesterday issued a new report about worldwide drug
prices for HIV medication. It found compulsory licences issued by Thailand
had stimulated dramatic price reductions for second-line anti-retroviral
treatments internationally.

Pennapa Hongthong
The Nation

Sheila Shettle
Senior Communications Officer
Médecins Sans Frontières
Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines
Rue de Lausanne 78
1211 Geneva, Switzerland
+ 41.22.849.8403
+ (m.)


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