COVID-19 Pandemic: Bolsonaro and the Pharmaceutical Industry Are United Against Access to Medicines in Brazil

Authors: Pedro VillardiCoordinator of the Working Group on Intellectual Property (GTPI) & Alan Rossi SilvaStaff Attorney at the Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association (ABIA)
(The Working Group on Intellectual Property (GTPI/Rebrip) is coordinated by MMA’s partner, the Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association (ABIA).)

A new chapter of Bolsonaro’s deliberate strategy to spread the coronavirus has begun. This time, his government is partnering with the pharmaceutical industry to undermine access to medicines and hold the Brazilian people hostage during one of the most severe crises in our history. 

Bowing to the private interests of the pharmaceutical industry and subverting the president’s prerogatives, Bolsonaro recently line-item vetoed the most important parts of Bill n. 12/2021, which was intended to improve the compulsory licensing of patents during times of crisis in Brazil. Based on an intense public debate, this bill had been approved by a large majority of the Brazilian Congress, enjoyed wide popular support, and represented a crucial spark of hope for our suffering country.

© Bruno Traversin, Brasilia, Brazil, 2021.

Notwithstanding, Bolsonaro decided to forsake the Presidency’s duty of protecting the public interest and disfigured the original legislative proposal. In order to please the transnational pharmaceutical industry, he has vetoed provisions that would have: (i) mandated the transfer of information and biological materials eventually needed for the effective reproduction of the protected object, (ii) enabled the Brazilian Congress to grant compulsory licenses, and (iii) cleared up any ambiguity regarding the deadlines set by the new law in the current pandemic.       

With this single move, Bolsonaro and Big Pharma succeeded in blocking the local reproduction of licensed technologies, holding everyone hostage to the president’s political will and creating confusion around the application of the new law in one of the most deadly experiences in Brazilian history. Of course, despite having partially sanctioned the Bill n. 12/2021 (which ultimately became Law 14.200/2021), Bolsonaro’s intent was to jeopardize compulsory licences and make them an inherently ineffective instrument to fight public health crises in our country. 

In fact, what has been thought of as a means to improve Brazilian patent law and save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic has been completely distorted and transformed into a threat contrary to its very intent. Now, the only chance we have is if the Brazilian Congress decides to override Bolsonaro’s vetoes and reorient the new law towards the public interest.

In this sense, all eyes are on the next joint session of the Brazilian National Congress, which will take place tomorrow, 7th of December. Everyone is expecting to see the same courage and sense of urgency that were shown— by both Houses —in the approval of the bill. More than ever, this is the moment to emphasize that medicines are not like any other product and health can not be subjugated to market whims. All we demand is that our representatives adopt an intransigent position, defending the public interest and against any attempt to sell our democracy and bargain with people’s lives.


Join the Brazilian and International Civil Society in this sign-on letter to help Brazil to approve a groundbreaking legislation that challenges the monopoly powers of pharmaceutical industry and creates a solution for the much-needed know-how sharing. Tomorrow, Brazil’s parliament will have a chance to defeat the vetoes. This is your chance to help them.