News Release: Brazil Decides to be Held Hostage No More

For Immediate Release
For more information, contact Robert Weissman, 202-387-8030

Brazil Decides to be Held Hostage No More: Statement in Response to Brazil’s Issuance of a Compulsory License on Efavirenz

The following is a statement of Robert Weissman, director, Essential Action:

Developing country governments must decide whether to let themselves and their people be held hostage by brand-name companies holding patent monopolies — monopolies granted by the governments themselves — or to act to make important medicines affordable and available to their people.

Today, in announcing a compulsory license on the important HIV/AIDS product efavirenz, Brazil finally decided it no longer wants to be held hostage.

Congratulations are due to Brazil, and especially to the Brazilian activists and public health advocates who have long toiled for this day.

Brazil’s initiative is a crucial step to help the country maintain its effective program to treat people with HIV/AIDS, the viability of which is threatened by high brand-name prices for second-generation drugs.

It will also have major beneficial externalities. Brazil’s substantial market will help create economies of scale for generic makers of efavirenz, and — combined with the generic market created by Thailand’s issuance of a compulsory license on efavirenz late last year — will drive down generic prices on a global basis.

Following the breakthrough initiatives of Thailand late last year and earlier this year, Brazil’s action will also help demonstrate the viability and importance of compulsory licensing.

It is time for developing countries to exercise much more aggressively the flexibilities they have fought to maintain in international trade rules, and not just for HIV/AIDS drugs. The only sustainable way to drive down prices is through generic competition.

Although they have grudgingly conceded some ground in the terrain of HIV/AIDS, Big Pharma’s preference is to maintain a single global price for its medicines. That means, plain and simple, that most people in the world — and the vast majority in the developing world — cannot afford brand-name products. Every person should view that as intolerable.

Countries cannot easily overcome the problems of poverty, but they can easily address the problem of artificially high drug prices maintained by patent monopolies. Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Zambia, Malawi, Ghana, Eritrea, Mozambique, South Africa and others — and now Brazil — have shown the way.