Monday, 16 February 2009

Brazil, HIV/AIDS and domestic patent policy

Older women face a higher risk of HIV/AIDS, according to a recent survey by the Brazilian Health Ministry. Remarkably the HIV infection rate in women over 50 in the country has more than tripled since 1996, making this population group the prime target of the government's HIV/AIDS prevention campaign during the carnival festivities. What has this to do with intellectual property? Well, according to IPS News,
"One milestone in the fight against the disease was the decision, in 2007, to break the patent on Efavirenz, a drug used by 85,000 out of the 200,000 HIV/AIDS patients who were taking the "cocktail" of antiretroviral drugs which drastically reduces mortality and improves quality of life.

Less than two years after decreeing compulsory licensing of the patented drug, made by the U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme, the Rio de Janeiro-based Oswaldo Cruz Foundation succeeded in producing the generic version, chemically identical to Efavirenz.

This year, half of the 30 million pills consumed in Brazil will be produced in-country.

The compulsory licensing imposed on Efavirenz does not deprive Merck of the royalties for its patent, which represent 1.5 percent of the cost of the pills, but the government saves around 60 percent of the price Merck was previously charging for them.

The cost of the Brazilian generic version is a little higher than that of the equivalent drug imported from India since the patent was bypassed, but the main thing is that "the technological capacity of the country" to manufacture its own generics has been proven ...".

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