Brazil slammed over HIV/AIDS drug patents

Pharma Marketletter
May 13, 2005

HIV/AIDS activists and non-governmental organizations have condemned Brazil's failure to break the patents on a number of antiretroviral drugs if their manufacturers failed to provide them at discounted prices or let generic versions be made in Brazil.

On March 15, the government set a deadline of April 4 for the companies - Abbott Laboratories, Gilead and Merck & Co - to agree, after which it said it would use compulsory licensing provisions (Marketletters passim). Its failure to do so has been attacked in a statement signed by 108 NGOs including the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres, which says: "the lack of action on the part of Brazilian authorities is incomprehensible. On the international level, Brazil has publicly defended using the flexibilities included in the World Trade Organization's Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement. But when it comes time to transforming this bold posture into acts that benefit the Brazilian population, the government resembles a toothless tiger."

HIV/AIDS activists and Brazilian social groups are also campaigning against this perceived inaction, and point out that the costs of the drugs involved account for 80% of the country's HIV/AIDS treatment budget. Noting that Brazil has shown "tremendous leadership" in the fight against AIDS, John Riley of ACT UP New York said: "poor-country governments and AIDS activists are now looking to Brazil to keep its promise and take all necessary steps to override the patents on these overpriced, desperately-needed second-generation AIDS drugs; all eyes are watching Brazil."

Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, said Brazil had "let itself be bullied by big drug companies long enough," while Sean Barry of Health GAP noted that the success of the country's ground-breaking treatment program had been made possible by local production of generics, a policy which has brought down the price of raw materials for ARVs internationally. Mr Barry urged the Health Ministry to "stand up to pharmaceutical companies, not only for the Brazilian people, but for people living with AIDS around the world."

The Health Ministry has responded that it is anxious that the manufacturers should not stop supplying the national treatment program until the country is able to produce generics.

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