In Brazil there are 780,000 people living with HIV, of which 405,000 are on HIV treatment. All patients get treatment free from the public health system.
The public health system offers universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment, but prices and patent abuses have been threatening the sustainability of this policy. Currently, budget constraints are slowing down the pace of introduction of better treatments with fewer side effects, thus affecting the rights of people living with HIV (PLHIV).
Existing undeserved patents are making Brazil pay much more for some drugs that are already available in generic cheaper versions elsewhere. For the newest drugs, companies are reluctant to offer substantial price reductions to Brazil, fearing the effects in other markets. As a result, the budget available for the HIV/AIDS program does not match the increasing costs of offering patients the regimens they need, to stay well and alive.
Measures available in the country to curb patents and price abuses are underused by the government and/or under attack by multinational pharmaceutical companies. On the other hand, measures that ensure stronger and extended patent protection to companies are overused. A balance in the Brazilian patent regime needs to be found to secure the rights of PLHIV and all patients that rely on the public health system, with its principles of universality and equity.
Brazil’s universal public health system is the biggest in the world serving 100 million people and providing free essential medicines. Maintaining and financing the health system is an ongoing challenge.
The intellectual property protection imposed by the TRIPS agreement has been a significant factor in the dramatic price increases of new medicines. This has begun to threaten Brazil’s capacity to maintain its promise to provide health care to its people.
The current patent law was approved in 1996, only a few months after the TRIPS agreement was signed. At that time, Brazil incorporated some measures known as TRIPS-plus, under pressure from multinational pharmaceutical companies and the US government. Fortunately, the government also managed to incorporate some measures to promote public health policies.
Today new debates about the patent law have emerged. While offering new opportunities to strengthen public health safeguards, they also open the door for patent enforcement agendas. Brazil has one of the oldest HIV/AIDS patient cohorts in developing countries, so it experiences treatment challenges that other countries will soon face. This is especially the case with regards to the introduction of new drugs, and switching patients to new regimens. Brazil’s HIV/AIDS program has been seen as a good model to the rest of the world for decades. The high price of drugs and budget constraints is now threatening the principle of universal access and providing the best treatment options available.
Associação Brasileira Interdisciplinar de AIDS, is the lead organization mobilizing civil society to challenge intellectual property protection and other measures that reduce access to essential medicines.