[RIO DE JANEIRO] Brazil has set an example to other developing countries by employing "creative measures" to successfully tackle its HIV/AIDS epidemic, says a new study.
The study commends the country's methods employed in significantly lowering AIDS-related death and illness, such as developing generic AIDS drugs in public factories and threatening to produce generic versions of patented medicines.
In 2000, to combat rising treatment costs, Brazil's health minister Jose Serra pressured pharmaceutical companies to reduce their prices by threatening to issue a compulsory licence that would enable local production of generic versions of patented antiretrovirals.
The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement allows a developing country to invoke a compulsory license if the nation's health is at risk, thus allowing the production of patented drugs without payment to the patent holder.
Despite initial protests from the United States, the move proved successful and several companies slashed their prices. Brazil also started producing generic copies of non-patented medicines in 2001.
Brazil issued its first compulsory licence to import efavirenz — the most commonly used HIV/AIDS drug in the country, made by Merck & Co — from India in 2007 (see Brazil breaks patent on HIV/AIDS drug) and began producing the drug locally this year.
"Brazil's challenges to multinational pharmaceutical companies promoted transparency about the high cost of patented medicines in an era when companies did not publicly share their drug prices," Amy Nunn, co-author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University in the United States, told SciDev.Net.
She said in a press release: "Before Brazil's efforts, as recently as the year 2000, most people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries died without receiving treatment".
Brazil's experience is valuable for middle-income countries, who are increasingly relying on generic medicines, say the authors.
Graham Dutfield, professor of international governance at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom, says Brazil has set an excellent example for other countries.
"Brazil's drug policy has been absolutely correct, giving priority to the human right to health over private commercial interests, something all countries are required to do under international human rights law," he told SciDev.Net.
The authors' findings — based on interviews and analysis of Brazilian media — are published in the July/August edition of Health Affairs.
Health Affairs doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.28.4.1103 (2009)