U.S. Should Support Brazil’s Efforts To Produce Generic Antiretrovirals, Editorial Says
U.S. trade officials and pharmaceutical companies should support Brazil's efforts to manufacture generic versions of patented antiretroviral drugs because the country "has the right" to ensure it can provide treatment for all of its HIV-positive residents, a New York Times editorial says (New York Times, 6/23). Brazil's lower house of government earlier this month approved a bill that would suspend patents on all antiretrovirals and allow Brazilian companies to produce generic versions of the drugs if the Brazilian government cannot negotiate price reductions or licensing agreements with patent-holding pharmaceutical companies. The government in March threatened to break the patents on four antiretrovirals -- Merck's efavirenz, Abbott Laboratories' lopinavir and ritonavir and Gilead's tenofovir -- by April 4 if the drug manufacturers did not agree to allow the country to produce generic equivalents or buy them at discounted prices, but it has not yet done so. Brazil's National STD/AIDS Programme, which is considered to be one of the most progressive in the world, already manufactures and distributes generic versions of antiretrovirals, providing them at no cost to all HIV-positive people in the country. The program ignores all patents issued before 1997, when Brazil signed an intellectual property law in order to join the World Trade Organization. The government over the past three years repeatedly has said it might break patent laws in order to negotiate price reductions with pharmaceutical companies (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/3).
Although opponents of Brazil's efforts to break antiretroviral patents say the country has "no real AIDS emergency" and some drug companies offer Brazil discounted medicines, WTO trade regulations "are clear" in encouraging members to use "flexibilities" in intellectual property laws to promote wider access to medicines, the editorial says. Therefore, countries do not need to "wait for an emergency, and Brazil isn't even a tough call," according to the Times. In addition, the right to break patents to protect public health has been "underused" by many countries because they have been "intimidated, mainly by the United States," the editorial says, adding that health ministers who propose producing generic drugs often are "silenced by influential local business sectors afraid of trade retaliation." The U.S. WTO representative should "make a public statement that the United States will not retaliate against Brazil for exercising its right to save lives," the editorial concludes (New York Times, 6/23).