AIDS: Breaking Patents Is the Only Solution, Says Brazil

Brazil’s Minister of Health, Humberto Costa, said that increases in the quantities spent on anti-retroviral medications could, in the medium run, prove detrimental to the national anti-AIDS program.

The high cost, according to the Minister, is due mainly to the inclusion of new items on the list of medications offered for free by the public health service.


“That was why we sent a letter to the laboratories that manufacture these drugs, for them to approve voluntary licensing (technology transfer with royalty payments) for [four of] these medications to be produced in Brazil,” Costa explained.


According to the Minister, purchasing these drugs accounts for about 66% of what the Minister spends on anti-retroviral remedies.


According to the Minister, in this year’s negotations for the purchase of anti-retroviral remedies the government obtained a discount of US$ 23.8 million (65 million reais), as against US$ 110.2 million (300 million reais) last year.


“But, partly for the very reason that last year’s discount was US$ 110.2 million, there was little room for negotiation,” he observed.


The Ministry solicited voluntary licensing in a letter sent on March 14 to the laboratories Merck Sharp & Dohme, Abbott, and Gilead Science, Inc.


If the laboratories refuse to accept the technology transfer proposal, Costa said that the possibility of issuing a compulsory license – equivalent to patent-breaking – will be considered to enable Brazil to produce these medications. The American laboratories should define their position by the beginning of May.


Brazil currently produces eight of the 16 medications used in the AIDS “cocktail.” As soon as the country starts to produce the four drugs in question, it will only need to import the remaining four.


AIDS medicines have been produced in Brazil since 1994, and the Ministry of Health calculates that it will care for 180 thousand patients this year.


Translation: David Silberstein
Agência Brasil

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