British aid agency Oxfam on Tuesday urged Thailand's new government not to scrap a controversial generic drugs programme, which provides cheaper, copycat medicines to the poor.
"We are encouraging the new government of Thailand to continue" the programme, Oxfam's regional director for East Asia, Sarah Ireland said at a news conference.
"We urge the government to listen to the poor people in Thailand," she said.
Under the scheme, Thailand's previous military government issued so-called compulsory licences, which temporarily suspend patent protections for pricey medicines and allow production of cheaper and copycat versions.
The move has angered Western drug giants, which called it an infringement on their intellectual property rights, but activists have hailed it, saying it was a "beacon" for other developing nations seeking cheaper medicines for the poor.
The previous government overrode patents for popular heart drug Plavix and two key AIDS medicines -- Kaletra and Efavirenz -- and issued compulsory licences on three cancer drugs in January shortly before it left office.
Apart from the three cancer drugs -- Docetaxel, Letrozole and Tarceva -- the military government also struck a last-minute deal with drug giant Novartis, which agreed to give its leukaemia medicine Glivec to Thai patients for free.
But the kingdom's new Health Minister Chiya Sasomsub said this month he would review the generic drugs scheme, alarming health activists that the new government would scrap the programme.
Oxfam's Ireland said Chiya should not make an U-turn on the scheme.
"These compulsory licences are completely legal and permit the government to provide cheaper and lifesaving drugs to their people," Ireland said.
Among the cancer drugs, Docetaxel treats lung cancer and Letrozole is used for breast cancer. Tarceva is used for lung, pancreatic and ovarian cancer.