China Grapples With Decision of Whether To Produce Generic Antiretroviral Drugs Domestically
Some Chinese officials argue that China's AIDS epidemic is "so dire" that they must domestically produce generic antiretroviral drugs, but China's leadership "is deeply torn between the competing imperatives of confronting a disease that could kill millions and respecting the norms of the global trading system on which it has staked its future," the Washington Post reports. Some experts say that China, along with India, may become home to the largest number of people living with HIV in the world; the government has said that one million people are already infected and 10 million more people could become infected by the end of the decade. However, "no one, save for the richest, can afford the life-prolonging drugs produced by multinational pharmaceutical giants," the Post reports. According to the Post, patents in China protect only a few antiretroviral drugs, but "dozens" of other drugs are "covered by government pledges of protection." Pharmaceutical companies, along with U.S. and European officials, have successfully convinced China's leaders that breaking those pledges would be detrimental to the country's reputation among foreign investors -- on which China increasingly relies -- and "undermine its commitment to free trade" only months after it entered the World Trade Organization. China has recently licensed four generic versions of antiretroviral drugs for domestic production, and the government is working with pharmaceutical companies to cut the costs of other medications. Proponents of breaking patents say that China is making decisions on AIDS drugs "based more on economic expediency than on compassion," the Post reports. However, Han Mengjie, assistant director of the National Center for AIDS, which is associated with the Ministry of Health, said, "We're not afraid of making drug companies mad. ... We know we have a crisis. We urgently want to be able to provide the cheapest possible drugs" (Goodman, Washington Post, 12/5).
A kaisernetwork.org Issue Spotlight on AIDS in China is available online.