Brazil fights for accessible anti-AIDS drug
Published Jul 2, 2005 9:33 AM
Since early June, the government of Brazil
has been focusing on the task of securing the supply of antiviral medication to
its HIV-infected population. On June 1, a commission from the Brazilian House of
Representatives approved a bill that prohibits the patenting of vital drugs for
the prevention and treatment of the disease. This makes it possible for state
pharmaceutical laboratories to manufacture as generic otherwise expensive
Roberto Gouveia from the ruling Workers Party (PT), author
of the bill, said that “it aims to promote well-being and to advance a
humanizing model; we cannot remain subject to profits.”
encouraging other countries to take advantage of World Trade Organization rules
and not be beholden to voracious pharmaceutical companies that, with their
extraordinarily high prices, put people’s health and well-being at risk.
The WTO agreements on intellectual property allow governments to produce a
generic version of a high-priced patented medicine if an agreement cannot be
reached with the patent company and there is a health threat.
recently, Brazil alarmed greedy U.S. pharmaceutical Abbott Laboratories when it
announced June 24 that it would break the patent for Abbott’s drug
combination of Lopinavir and Ritonavir, named Kaletra, unless Abbott lowers its
high price or allows Brazil to manufacture a generic version.
Associated Press reported June 24, “Health Minister Humberto Costa said
Brazil is able to act on its own because it has legislation that allows the
government to break drug patents in cases of a health emergency or if it rules
the pharmaceutical industry is engaged in abusive pricing.”
and some reactionary voices in the United States have responded that Brazil does
not have an AIDS emergency. That’s a typical answer from a callous
for-profit medicine manufacturing company. But it is Brazil’s aggressive
prevention programs that have kept AIDS from being an epidemic for millions of
Brazil is recognized internationally as a leader in AIDS
prevention and treatment programs that are available absolutely free to anyone
who needs them. Brazil has been criticized by the religious right wing,
particularly in the United States, for its no-nonsense, non-discriminatory
In May, Brazil publicly criticized the Bush administration’s
anti-abortion and pro-abstinence AIDS program and rejected $40 million in aid
for anti-HIV programs. Brazil refused to sign on to a declaration condemning
prostitution. Officials said that would have interfered with helping sex workers
to protect themselves and their clients from infection.
provide free condoms and carry out an extensive prevention program, including
treatment and care of orphan children.
The Brazilian anti-HIV program has
been an example that many other developing nations are following. It has been
praised by many organizations worldwide, including the World Health Organization
and the Gates Foundation.
In 2003, the WHO announced that it would use the
Brazilian program as a model to treat poor people infected with the virus. That
same year, Bill Gates’ foundation awarded $1 million, stating:
“Brazil has shown that with perseverance, creativity and compassion, a
country whose people are affected with the AIDS virus can fight against the
epidemic. Brazil is saving lives and saving resources at the same time; this
should be an inspiration for the world.”
But the high cost of newer
essential drugs is jeopardizing the program. Health authorities say Brazil is
now treating 170,000 patients with HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted
diseases. However, an increase to 215,000 patients is expected by 2008.
great many will be people over 50 years old, mostly women, who are now the
fastest-growing sector of the population contracting the virus. In the last 10
years the number of cases of women over 50 grew 567 percent.
officials have 10 days to respond to Brazil. If they do not lower the price or
permit the production of a generic equivalent, Costa said that Brazil is ready
to take action, and “will be issuing the compulsory license order.”
He added, “Brazil will follow through and break the
The country is in similar negotiations with two other
anti-HIV-drug manufacturers, Merck & Co. Inc. and Gilead Sciences Inc.
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