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The role of civil society in protecting public health over commercial interests: lessons from Thailand.
Lancet. 2004 Feb 14; 363(9408):560-563.In October, 2002, two Thai people with HIV-1 won an important legal case to increase access to medicines. In its judgment in the didanosine patent case against Bristol-Myers Squibb, the Thai Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court ruled that, because pharmaceutical patents can lead to high prices and limit access to medicines, patients are injured by them and can challenge their legality. This ruling had great international implications for health and human rights, confirming that patients—whose health and lives can depend on being able to afford a medicine—can be considered as damaged parties and therefore have legal standing to sue. The complexities of pharmaceutical intellectual property law are most poorly understood by those most affected by their consequences—the patients who need the drugs. The Thai court case was the outcome of a learning process and years of networking between different civil society actors who joined forces to protect and promote the right of access to treatment. Our Viewpoint, based on key interviews and published reviews, summarises the efforts of civil society in Thailand to achieve a fair balance between international trade and public health. These efforts have focused on didanosine, an essential antiretroviral drug that in Thailand has become symbolic of how multinational companies and governments of industrialised countries protect their own interests at the expense of access to essential medicines for the poor. (author's)