In November 2001, at the World Trade Organisation’s 4th ministerial conference in Doha, the finance ministers of the world reaffirmed that governments are free to take all necessary measures to protect public health. That means that a government has a right to override patents in an ’emergency’. One method of doing this is through ‘compulsory licensing’, a procedure under WTO rules whereby a government faced with a health emergency may grant a permit to produce a generic form of a crucial drug. As of April 2002, no developing country has ever instigated a compulsory licence, though in US and Europe the process is common. Despite the Doha declaration, Thailand activists and sympathetic government officials report that there has been no change in the stance of the Thai government on compulsory licensing since last November, despite the critical HIV/AIDS problem in the kingdom. In January 2002 a US Embassy official questioned Thai health ministry officials and was assured that compulsory licensing was not on the agenda.
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