US Foundation Tells Brazil to Break Patents If Needed to Keep AIDS Program Going

On the heels of an article published yesterday, January 3, in the Boston Globe, "Drug Costs Imperil Brazil AIDS Fight" (Indira A.R. Lakshmanan), AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the US’ largest provider of HIV/AIDS healthcare, education and prevention and operator of free AIDS treatment clinics in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Asia, called for pharmaceutical companies to reduce prices of lifesaving AIDS drugs for middle-income countries like Brazil in order to save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Brazil has become a global model for its commitment to provide HIV/AIDS drugs to all of its citizens in need and has engaged in tough negotiations with pharmaceutical companies to lower prices and increase access. 

But now Brazil’s successful AIDS program is being threatened by astronomical costs for newer, second-line drugs – a lifeline for many people living with HIV who have become resistant to their drug regimen. 

According to the Globe article, " … even with discounts, new antiretrovirals cost as much as US$ 17,000 per patient per year in Brazil.  Old generic drugs cost hundreds of dollars per patient annually. 

The soaring prices have sparked a national debate over the sustainability of the taxpayer-funded program and over Brazil’s right to begin making generic copies of critically needed medicines."

"The fact that Brazil is classified as a middle-income country is a primary reason that the prices for newer AIDS drugs remain out of reach.  It is time for the drug industry to change its policies and charge appropriate prices for these lifesaving medications in countries where the average person lives on less than $2 a day," said Henry E. Chang, AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Chief of Global Affairs. 

"Brazil and other middle-income countries currently pay up to 36 times more for second-line AIDS treatments than they do for first-line drugs, making successful AIDS programs like Brazil’s simply unsustainable."

"We call on the drug companies to stop impeding progress in countries like Brazil by crippling what is arguably the most successful government intervention for global AIDS to date and urge a re-evaluation of policies that keep lifesaving medications out of reach for people in need in middle-income countries," said Terri Ford, AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Director of Global Advocacy. 

"We also call on Brazil to continue to prioritize the health of its citizens and utilize all methods necessary – including issuing compulsory licenses – to ensure access to lifesaving AIDS drugs for Brazilians in need."

The World Bank classifies Brazil as a middle-income country using Gross National Income (GNI) as its measure.  Middle-income countries are not proffered the same drug price reductions as low-income countries via the Accelerated Access Initiative, a public-private effort to increase access to essential medicines in the developing world. 

However, when it comes to country classification, higher overall average income does not necessarily indicate less poverty.  GNI simply divides a country’s total income by its total population to arrive at an estimate of average individual incomes. Average income figures can obscure the fact that the majority of a country’s citizens may live in poverty.

"Many people being treated for HIV/AIDS may develop resistance to their current regimen and will require these newer, second-line treatments to continue to stay alive," said Patricia Campos, M.D., AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Latin America Bureau Chief. 

"People currently being treated successfully in Brazil – and throughout Latin America, for that matter – will be condemned to death without access to affordable second-line drugs."

In Latin America, AIDS Healthcare Foundation currently provides free anti-retroviral treatment to people in need through its clinics in Mexico (in Tijuana, Puerto Vallarta and opening later this year La Paz) Honduras (in Bay Island of Roatan, San Pedro Sula and Siguatepeque) and in Guatemala (Quetzaltenango).

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