Brazil may flout trade laws to keep AIDS drugs free for patients

Brazil’s AIDS drug program—which produces HIV-fighting medicines locally at a drastically reduced cost and offers them free to HIV-positive Brazilians, most of whom would not be able to afford the drugs at their regular prices—is coming under fire from multinational drug companies that are demanding international patent laws be respected.

The two most important drugs in the program are Merck’s efavirenz and Roche Holding’s nelfinavir [Ed. – Merck and Roche are in fact distributors of these drugs and not the patent holders in Brazil], which together comprised about 36 percent of Brazil’s AIDS program spending in 2000 of $319 million, spurring the government to threaten local generic production if prices are not reduced by the manufacturers. However, the problem is more than just the two drugs, because Brazil will need to increase its importation of AIDS drugs by five times before 2005, spending as much as $1.7 billion to treat HIV-positive patients.

A statute in Brazilian law permits the move to generics after three years of patent protection if a drug is considered vital. While the clause is being contested by the U.S. government and drug companies to the World Trade Organization, there is no denying that the program has cut the number of AIDS-related deaths in Brazil by 50 percent over the past four years and slowed HIV transmission to well below World Health Organization predictions.


Wall Street Journal (12/02/01) P. B1.

Source: CDC HIV/STD/TB Prevention News Update

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