Showdown Near Between Brazil and AIDS Drugs Labs

The Brazilian government must soon decide about breaking the patents of three antiretroviral medications that are part of the anti-AIDS cocktail.

The decision will probably be made as soon as Minister of Health, Humberto Costa, returns from his trip to Africa, where he is accompanying President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

During this week, the Ministry will still try to negotiate with medicine producers who, almost a month ago, received a government's request asking for their voluntary license consent, and authorization for the government to produce the medications in Brazil paying for their royalties.

Without identifying the laboratories, the Minister press-service informed that their answers were not very positive. Two out of the three labs contacted by the Minister accept to negotiate, but not under the government's terms, and the third one does not agree with the proposal.

According to the secretary of Health Protection, Jarbas Barbosa, the volume of resources Brazil spends buying antiretrovirals increases to "unbearable" levels. In 2004, the Ministry spent US$ 217 million (560 million reais) with this type of medication.

According to Barbosa, the government will spend over R$ 349 million (900 million reais) this year, even though the number of new patients has risen only 20%.

"Looking ahead, in two or three years, the situation may negatively affect Brazilian policy for universal access to antiretroviral medication," he alerts.

Brazil produces only eight of the 16 medications that integrate the anti-AIDS cocktail.

Last March 14th, the Ministry solicited voluntary licensing of three medications: Lopinavir /Ritonavir (Abbot), Efavirenz (Merck Sharp & Dohme), and Tenofovir (Gilead Science Incorporation).

The Ministry of Health affirms that if the laboratories do not accept the proposal, the country may seek compulsory licensing. This mechanism is allowed by the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for cases involving public health.

Agência Brasil

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