RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 10 (IPS) - Not only does AIDS endanger
millions of human lives, it is also threatening a core
institution of capitalism, the private ownership of knowledge
in the form of patents, at least in the pharmaceutical sector.
Brazil, a country of 168 million, said it would refuse to
recognise the intellectual property rights of giant drug
companies that did not reduce the prices of the anti-retroviral
medications used in the combination drug therapies employed to
fight the AIDS- causing Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
To do that, Brazil has passed legislation providing for
"compulsory licensing," permitting the manufacturing and use of
generic drugs without the agreement of the patent-holder, in
cases of "national emergency".
Brazil already produces seven of the 12 drugs used in the anti-
HIV cocktail treatment. That has allowed the government to
lower the cost of treating an AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency
Syndrome) patient by 40 percent, to 4,500 dollars a year.
The pharmaceutical giants' insistence on maintaining a large
profit margin at the expense of people suffering from life-
threatening illnesses justifies the use of compulsory
licensing, according to Paulo Teixeira, coordinator of Brazil's
National AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Programme.
Neighbouring Argentina has also adopted that mechanism, while
it has stiffened anti-trust legislation and the rules aimed at
preventing abuses by patent holders and promoting competition
in the pharmaceutical industry, said Roberto Lugones, a
biochemist who heads the National Medications Commission.
Compulsory licensing has cut the Brazilian government's total
spending on medications by 16 percent, while the prices of some
drugs, like stavudine, plunged by as much as 96 percent,
Lugones stated Friday in a panel held at the First Forum and
Second Latin America and Caribbean Horizontal Technical
Cooperation Conference on HIV/AIDS and STDS (Forum 2000).
One of the strategies Brazil has followed is to produce drugs
that are not patented in this country, the prices of which were
pulled down by an average of 72 percent, said Eloan Pinheiro,
technical director of Farmanguinhos, a state-owned Brazilian
laboratory that has played a key role in the local
manufacturing of anti-retroviral medications.
In the case of products with protected patents, the drop in
prices was only nine percent.
Compulsory licensing, the Health Ministry's power to regulate
prices, and negotiations for waiving patents at a low cost are
other strategies used by the Brazilian government to offer
anti- retroviral treatment to all people infected with HIV,
Pedro Chequer, coordinator of Southern Cone actions in the
joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), pointed
out earlier this week in Forum 2000 that Brazil had saved 421
million dollars in the past three years, by cutting HIV-related
Treatment with combination anti-retroviral therapies also led
to 51 million dollars in savings in treatment of opportunistic
infections, while it has led to additional productive years
gained by HIV-carriers, companies and the country as a whole,
The United States has filed complaints against Argentina and
Brazil in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over compulsory
A Nov 5-6 'Community Forum' organised by people living with HIV
and a number of organisations working in prevention and
treatment approved a declaration calling on the United States
to withdraw its complaints, and urging it not to meddle in the
Dominican Republic's drafting of a new patent law.
"Economic power does not provide the right to kill," although
that is precisely what is occurring in many parts of the world,
and especially Africa, stated the declaration.
Pinheiro, a chemist who worked for 17 years in the
multinational pharmaceutical industry, advocated "rules that
ensure universal access to the new drugs, and shared industrial
property," in order to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Monopolising information in these cases is "sheer cruelty; it
amounts to letting people die of AIDS and other serious
illnesses, just to earn a little bit more," she argued.
Pinheiro proposed that Latin America and the Caribbean
negotiate together to strengthen their position vis-�-vis
patent- holders, and that they create a fund for what is known
as "pooled procurement" of anti-retroviral drugs at lower
She said Brazil could serve as a model for other developing
countries, which could join together and produce generic
medications in association.
Brazil is the only developing country which manufactures anti-
retroviral drugs in the public sector and does not plan to
become an exporter, said Teixeira. The aim of the government of
Fernando Henrique Cardoso is simply to make cheap, high-quality
drugs widely available, he added.
Brazil has also decided to transfer the technology it has
developed to other developing countries, and has begun to
donate small quantities of the drugs it produces to the Bahamas
and Burkina Faso.
Pinheiro lamented that her laboratory, Farmanguinhos, could
only dedicate 10 percent of its manufacturing capacity to
anti-HIV medications, because the country has a number of other
serious health problems to deal with, like malaria,
tuberculosis and diabetes.
At Forum 2000, which has drawn some 3,000 health authorities
and other experts to Rio de Janeiro Monday through Saturday,
representatives of around 60 companies from Argentina, Brazil
and Paraguay announced the creation of a Mercosur Business
Council for AIDS, to promote joint preventive actions.
HIV prevention will be adopted as a permanent issue on the
Mercosur (Southern Common Market -- also comprised of Uruguay)
agenda at the bloc's summit in December, said Chequer.
The Business Council's aim is to combat the scourge in key
areas like borders and highways, and to step up prevention
within companies and among the families of employees and
clients, explained Chequer.
One of the actions, to be launched in January, will be a
prevention campaign on the border where Argentina, Brazil and
Paraguay come together, where a heavy flow of tourists
attracted by the Iguaz� falls and cheap shopping in Paraguay's
Ciudad del Este, and the flow of drugs and migrants are all
factors that fuel prostitution.
The "Proyecto Iguaz�" will consist of educational efforts
targetting police, tourist agents, people working in the hotel
industry, taxi and truck drivers and prostitutes.
The incidence of HIV is not high in the Southern Cone region,
where 0.69 percent of the population is infected in Argentina,
0.57 percent in Brazil, 0.33 percent in Uruguay and 0.11
percent in Paraguay. However, prevention is essential, Chequer
Other projects will be developed along Argentina's borders with
Brazil and Chile where cross-border flows of people are
heaviest, with financing from the national governments and