Drug Group’s Campaign Slammed by Activists

Newspaper Ads are Half-truths, Say Critics
by Apiradee Treerutkuarkul and AFP
Published at Bangkok Post

Health and consumer rights protection activists yesterday slammed the pharmaceutical industry for running adverts which mislead the public about the high cost of drugs. The statement is a reaction to full-page ads in several local newspapers.

The reaction came one day after the industry, represented by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PRreMA), ran the ads that blame the high cost of drugs on improper regulations.

The ads, ”Stop Taxing Medicine”, appeared in several newspapers.

The activists said the ads contained half-truths about high drug costs.

”They are trying to give a false impression that the high prices of pharmaceutical products are the result of inappropriate regulations,” said Jakkrit Kuanpot, an academic at Wollongong University in Australia.

”This information distorts the fact _ how much they pay for such marketing strategy compared to research and development?

”And they did not even mention the high profits they get from selling expensive drugs.”

It was said the ads, which will run in a series, have been taken in revenge by the industry for being bypassed in a three-day conference on compulsory licensing (CL), which ended yesterday. The event focused on CL and access for all.

Brook Baker, a law professor at Northeastern University’s programme for human rights and global economy, said the pharmaceutical industry always uses this marketing tactic to mislead the public on the issue of compulsory licensing in order to monopolise the market.

Similar ads were also published in Brazil and Indonesia when the state policy on compulsory licensing was announced.

Nimit Tienudom, an activist with the Aids Access Foundation, said the medicine tax, mentioned in the ads, was only a half-truth.

”At present pharmaceutical products sold to hospitals are exempt from the tax system, whereas similar products sold to private pharmaceutical companies are listed for value-added tax of 7%,” he said.

He said activists had long petitioned for a review from the Ministry of Finance on the tax system for medicinal products.

PReMA’s ads carried a statement which said the death rate caused by heart diseases, tuberculosis, cancer, ulcers and others had decreased over the past 40 years due to new medicines.

Mr Nimit, however, said the statement was not necessarily true as Thailand has used the same old medicine for treating tuberculosis for more than 30 years, despite the risk of drug resistance.

In addition, major diseases that caused the highest deaths in Thailand were still cancer, cardiovascular and heart diseases.

Vichai Chokewiwat, the chairman of the board of the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation, said he would wait for another two series of advertisements expected to be published this week.

”If there is any information that causes damage to the government and generic medicines listed for compulsory licensing, I may take legal action against them,” he said.

Apart from buying advertising in selected newspapers, the PReMA will also have a special press interview with Ronald Cass, the former dean of Boston University’s School of Law, on CL experiences and country economy.

Foreign activists have hailed the government’s CL policy, saying Thailand was leading the way in providing medical care to those who cannot afford expensive drugs.

”We are all looking to Thailand as a beacon that has shown us the way forward for a sustainable way to make medicines available and affordable,” said Robert Weissman, a director of the Washington-based Essential Action.