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Brazil to break foreign AIDS drugs patents

Brazil will break patents on some foreign AIDS drugs next year to escape the control of multinational firms holding developing countries “hostage,” the government said on Tuesday.
/ Source: Reuters

Brazil will break patents on some foreign AIDS drugs next year to escape the control of multinational firms holding developing countries “hostage,” the government said on Tuesday.

Brazil, which has a much-copied universal free AIDS program, has for years threatened to break patents in its drive to cut the cost of foreign drugs used in its 15-drug anti HIV-AIDS cocktail.

It will make the move in 2005 when it begins domestic production of three to five drugs without permission from the companies that hold the patents, Pedro Chequer, head of the government’s AIDS program told reporters.

Chequer did not say which patents would be broken.

Under Brazilian law, and based on World Trade Organization rules, a nation can break drug patents by applying a “compulsory license” on a product if it is a case of national emergency or national interest.

Brazil says it can no longer afford to run its free anti-AIDS program using imported drugs.

“We determined that we have to move to a situation of self-sufficiency through compulsory licensing,” Chequer said. “If we don’t move towards self-sufficiency the program will collapse.”

He said, “We see mergers of multinationals, regional monopolies, its all a big agreement to keep developing nations hostage to the multinational industry.”

In the mid 1990s AIDS experts expected millions of Brazil’s young, sexually-active population to fall prey to the disease.

Free access to drug cocktail
Brazil began free access to the cocktail of drugs in 1997. It has kept the number of people living with HIV at around 600,000. Some 150,000 Brazilians currently receive the HIV-AIDS drug cocktail, nearly half the total of 350,000 who receive such treatment throughout the developing world.

The cost of providing foreign imports of drugs in the cocktail has skyrocketed from 50 percent of the program’s budget in 1998 to an estimated 85 percent in 2005.

Brazil currently makes seven of the drugs in its cocktail and hopes to begin manufacture of more in the first half of 2005.

Brazil still lacks pharmaceutical industry technology and the capacity to supply all 15 of the drugs, Chequer said.

“Breaking patents means vertical national production from start to finish, so that we are not dependent on any other country for essential materials,” Chequer said.

Newly released 2004 data shows the spread of AIDS stabilized in the nation of 180 million people but was rising among poor, black and mixed-race Brazilians. Figures showed the disease had reached record levels among women.