Developing countries could produce generic drugs right now, UNAIDS study reveals

Published: 05 March 2001

In a dramatic development with significant implications for Access to Treatment, UNAIDS has released a study which indicates that AIDS medications are patented in hardly any of the world's developing countries. Theoretically, the study publicizes the fact that generic versions of the medications could be produced in almost all developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The announcement was made on Tuesday December 7th in Paris in an afternoon session at the Fourth International Conference on Home and Community Care for People Living with HIV/AIDS, chaired by activist Eric Sawyer (US) and devoted to issues related to Compulsory licensing and access to treatment.

In spite of the zeal and organization of activists interested in compulsory Licensing, the fact emerged that compulsory licensing may not be necessary for cheaper access to generic medications.

For example, although Merck, Sharpe and Dohme's protease inhibitor indinavir (Crixivan) is patented in the United States and several European countries, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Japan, it is not patented in any country in Latin America. In Africa it is only patented in South Africa, and in Asia only in Singapore. According to UNAIDS representative Joshua Perriens, Brasil will soon be producing a generic version of Indinavir and there are no laws which would prohibit developing countries from buying it at the Brasilian price.

Compulsory licensing exists as a recourse within the TRIPS agreement, which is the World Trade Organization's legal agreement related to intellectual property rights. But the world's 46 poorest countries, almost all of them in Africa and Latin America, have until the year 2006 to develop national legislation implementing this agreement. And even when it is implemented pharmaceutical companies still have to patent each product in each country. There is no international patenting process. All patents must be applied for on a country-to-country basis and few pharmaceutical companies have bothered to patent their product in developing countries, although they continue to insist on blocking generic access to their products in these nations.

The UNAIDS list includes information on 24 medications used to treat AIDS, including those for opportunistic infections as wells as anti-retrovirals.

Representative Bernard Pecoul of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans Frontiers) presented price comparisons on various medications which are already being produced generically. DDI - which sells for $180 per month in the USA - is being manufactured generically in Brasil where it costs $46 per month.

AZT costs 37 cents per tablet in Thailand, but sells for $2.08 per tablet in the Netherlands. Fluconazole, used to treat cryptococcus prophylaxis, cost $7 per day in Thailand before July 1988 but with generic production the price has dropped steadily and now stands at 67 cents a day.

Francisco Mingorance of the Fondation du Present summarized the existing situation related to both compulsory licensing and parallel importing in relation to the TRIPS agreement.

Eric Sawyer reminded the audience: "Jonathon Mann taught me that I have a moral obligation to fight for the rights of people with AIDS in the developing world. He called AIDS the worst plague the world has even seen and called for businesses to wake up to the fact that human life is far more important than profit."

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Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

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