Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Brazil works to keep AIDS drug price low

Generic versions of the anti-retroviral drugs given to AIDS patients have been a big help in reducing the number of deaths from the disease. The inexpensive generic versions of the ARV drugs can be distributed to more people who need them at a lower cost. Despite the lifesaving benefit, the governments of rich nations often try to block access to the generic versions of the drugs. They do this to protect the interest of the pharmaceutical companies that hold patents for ARVs.

From the Inter Press Service we take another look at this battle over bringing ARV drugs to the people from the viewpoint of Brazil. Writer Elizabeth Whitman says Brazil has been able to produce generic ARVs for their health program and is fighting in the free trade arena to keep doing so.

Generic drugs worldwide have played a significant role in HIV treatment because they are more affordable than brand-name drugs. They have also served as competition to bring down the price of non- generics.

The problem is that developed countries with corporations that hold patents for ARV medicines have often resisted the production of generic drugs by pushing for stricter intellectual property rights, such as longer patent terms, in free trade agreements and other negotiations.

But a study conducted by Oxfam on a free trade agreement between the U.S. and Jordan concluded that the TRIPS-plus rules in the agreement had contributed to increases in medicine prices, and that the rules "will delay or prevent use of public health safeguards to reduce he price of new medicines in the future."

Developing countries less able to afford expensive brand name drugs have pushed back, taking advantage of flexibilities - fairly and legally - within the World Trade Organization's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. One of the flexibilities allows governments to issue compulsory licenses to manufacture or import generic versions of drugs for public health purposes.

Brazil has been a leader in taking advantage of these flexibilities, and its efforts have paid off. In the early 2000s, a WTO panel ruled that for the Brazilian government to allow Brazilian firms to copy patented foreign pharmaceutical products and sell them as generics was acceptable, and did not violate the TRIPS agreement, according to Roy Nelson, associate professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

The European Union and the United States have fought most diligently for stricter intellectual property rights, known as TRIPS plus provisions. TRIPS plus provisions were a hot topic of debate during the High Level Meeting on AIDS held at the United Nations in New York at the beginning of this month.

These additional restrictions have proved a stumbling block in other arenas as well. Specifically, free trade negotiations between the EU and Mercosur, a bloc of Latin American countries, stalled yet again last week.

According to Scripintelligence, a news, analysis, and data provider for the pharmaceutical industry, and MercoPress, a South Atlantic news agency, Mercosur countries, Brazil included, are reluctant to accept EU demands for stricter patent rights, although this concern was not the only cause reason negotiations failed to proceed.

"Negotiations between Mercosur and the EU to suspend tariff and nontariff barriers between the economic blocs may inhibit local production of drugs, especially generics," Padilha told IPS. In order to ensure the affordability of HIV/AIDS drugs, the Brazilian government, he said, "adopts strategies for negotiating prices" with companies holding drug patents.

No comments: