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Doctors told to be wary of big drug firms

Bangkok Post

Doctors told to be wary of big drug firms

They have a ’hidden agenda’, forum told


17 June 2005

Doctors have been warned not to fall into the fierce marketing trap of multinational drug companies which have a ’’hidden agenda’’ to sell expensive products.

Prasert Palittapongarnpim, a psychiatrist at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital, said he was worried about the strategies of brand name drug companies which promote new products by sponsoring the academic forums of famous hospitals and medical institutions.

He was speaking at a forum on the proposed Thai-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) at Kasetsart University yesterday.

Mr Prasert said the drug producers’ tactics could create brand awareness for doctors, who might choose to prescribe their drugs for patients instead of cheaper generic drugs.

’’Doctor, academics and medical practitioners should be firm that most drugs included in the national list are safe and effective enough for treatment. There’s no need to prescribe patients only expensive patented ones having the same quality,’’ he said.

If this continued, the country would eventually end up spending too much of its budget on such drugs, he said.

Mr Prasert also claimed that most doctors at private hospitals usually distribute imported medicines for customers.

Such improper judgment was against medical ethics and could mislead the public into believing that brand name and imported drugs were better and more effective than locally-produced, cheaper medicine, he said.

Jiraporn Limpananont, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University’s pharmaceutical science department, said the business strategy of the multinational pharmaceutical industry was part of its hidden agenda to win more stakes in the local market.

The industry was also pushing for the inclusion of tougher intellectual property protection in free trade negotiations between Thailand and the US, she said.

Protection of data exclusivity is expected to be discussed during the fourth round of trade talks, which will take place next month.

If successful, most Thais taking generic drugs would be directly affected, participants in the forum said.

The enforcement would allow international drug firms to hold patent rights for up to 25 years after registration, five years longer than World Trade Organisation protection measures.

Ms Jiraporn said the longer protection meant the government would have to spend more money on imported drugs.

Between 1989 and 2003, the proportion of drugs imported into Thailand increased from 31% to 45%, according to a report from the Public Health Ministry’s Thai Drug Control Division. Most of them were produced by giant drug firms in the US and Europe.

Chernporn Tengamnuay, president of the Thai Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association, said about 70 local producers would be hit hard if the bilateral trade deal is put into practice, saying they could not produce drugs of similar quality at a cheaper price for users.

’’What the government is negotiating with the giant trade partner will not only be unfair to us, who never receive support on medical research and development.

’’It will also be a barricade for people to gain access to necessary low-priced drugs,’’ he said.

Kamol Uppakaew, chairman of the Thai Network on People Living with HIV/Aids, said the lack of necessary antiviral drugs for HIV-positive patients was a strong example of the impact of patent protection.