Doctors Without Borders says Brazil's government has failed to keep its pledge to break patents on expensive foreign anti-HIV drugs. In March, the government threatened to break patents on certain medications if manufacturers did not agree to let Brazil produce generic equivalents or buy the drugs at discounted prices by April 4. That deadline passed without agreement, and the government did nothing.
"The lack of action on the part of Brazilian authorities is incomprehensible. On the international level, Brazil has publicly defended using the flexibilities included in the World Trade Organization's TRIPS agreement," says a Doctors Without Borders statement signed by 107 other nongovernmental organizations. "But when it comes to transforming this bold posture into acts that benefit the Brazilian population, the government resembles a toothless tiger."
TRIPS, the WTO's intellectual property agreement, lets governments grant licenses allowing them to manufacture generic versions of patented drugs. The Brazilian government, which provides free anti-HIV drugs to anyone who needs them, said the cost of newer drugs is driving expenses up and endangering the program. The drugs in question--Abbott Laboratories' Kaletra, Merck's Sustiva, and Gilead Sciences' Viread--will cost Brazil $169 million this year, 67% of the government's budget for imported anti-HIV medications, according to the nation's health ministry.
In recent years, Brazil has obtained price reductions from pharmaceutical manufacturers by threatening to break patents. Merck has lowered the price for Sustiva four times, but the government says that is not enough. A press officer at the health ministry's AIDS program said breaking patents is a delicate procedure and Brazil does not want pharmaceutical companies to stop supplying the drugs before generic equivalents become available. (AP)