Hartford Courant Columnist Urges Support for Brazil in AIDS Drug Trade Dispute
A "kind of miracle" is taking place in Brazil, Ramon Castellblanch writes in his Hartford Courant column. "One of the main factors in this Brazilian miracle is the country's manufacture of low-cost generic drugs for treating AIDS," he continues. The World Bank estimated in 1994 that by 2000, Brazil would have 1.2 million HIV-positive residents, but the actual numbers are only half that, he writes. Because Brazilian law does not recognize patents on many drugs, government-run laboratories analyzed and copied some of the antiretroviral drugs used in AIDS therapy and distributes generic versions to citizens at a cost to the government of about $3,000 a year per patient, compared to $10,000 to $15,000 a year for the same brand-name medications. Although these drugs have helped many Brazilians manage HIV, Castellblanch writes, the U.S. government has gone before the World Trade Organization and "questioned the legality" of the law and asked the WTO to "find Brazil in violation of international trade rules." A guilty verdict would mean Brazil must "swiftly correct its 'fault'" and offer compensation. If it does not do so, it risks trade sanctions from other member nations, he continues. The United States says it is not "trying to impede Brazil's ability to treat people with AIDS," but is trying to solve the question: "Who owns the patent?" But the U.S. actions are not so "benign," Castellblanch writes. He cites James Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology, who said, "Why hassle Brazil? Because they are going around touting their model [for HIV treatment] and the big drug companies are going ballistic because of that." AIDS death rates in Africa have reached "holocaust proportions" because the price of the AIDS drugs is "prohibitive," and "[i]t seems the global pharmaceutical industry doesn't want to see other poor countries taking Brazil's approach," Castellblanch continues. "The United States should stop threatening Brazil's program for AIDS. No drugmaker's profit on one line of drugs is worth the risk of a holocaust. U.S. senators and members of Congress should tell the U.S. government to withdraw its WTO action and leave Brazilians free to continue receiving their lifesaving AIDS drugs," Castellblanch concludes (Castellblanch, Hartford Courant, 3/9).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.