Brazil has the developing world’s most successful AIDS/HIV treatment and prevention program. Its operation is very simple: any HIV-positive Brazilian who cannot afford treatment can obtain the so-called AIDS cocktail drugs from the government free of charge.
At the moment there are around 160,000 people enrolled in the program. Brazil uses a total of seventeen drugs; ten of them are no longer protected by patents and copycat versions are produced in Brazil at a low cost.
The other seven are patented and that’s the rub. They are so expensive that just paying for a few of them eats up most of the government’s AIDS/HIV budget.
Recently, following long, arduous and unfruitful negotiations with pharmaceutical companies for price reductions, Brazil announced it is considering breaking the patents of at least three AIDS drugs, known as Kaletra (Ritonavir/Lopinavir), Efavirenz and Tenofovir.
The head of the AIDS program, Pedro Chequer, explains that Brazil has the necessary manufacturing know-how and could economize as much as US$ 600 million in five years by producing its own generic versions of the three drugs. “That is money we could invest in our own AIDS research,” he reports.
Chequer points out that last year Brazil began sharing its AIDS treatment and prevention program, along with its cheap generic drugs, with other countries at no cost to those countries.
So far the Portuguese-speaking nations of East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Cabo Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, along with South American neighbors, Paraguay and Uruguay, are receiving assistance from Brazil which also includes healthcare personnel training programs.
“We are not doing this for profit. We see AIDS as a question of solidarity and human rights,” declared Chequer.