September 19, 2001

Group to Use Brazil Anti-AIDS Plan

By PETER MUELLO, Associated Press Writer from the Los Angeles Times


RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- An international medical relief group said Thursday it planned to use Brazil's anti-AIDS program and AIDS drugs -- including locally made copies of patented medicines -- in other developing countries.

Dr. Bernard Pecoul, director of a medical access campaign run by Medecins Sans Frontieres, signed an agreement with Brazil's Health minister Jose Serra during a visit this week to Brasilia, the capital.

MSF is known as Doctors Without Borders in the United States.

"We want to exploit Brazil's experience," said the group's spokesman Juliano Borges in Rio. "The agreement includes human resources, technology and the drugs themselves."

The government distributes a "cocktail" of 12 AIDS drugs free to anyone who needs it. Although some 210,500 of Brazil's 170 million people have the disease, the annual number of AIDS deaths has fallen from 11,024 to 4,136 in just four years.

The cocktail includes drugs patented by foreign companies, which Brazil says are too expensive to import. To reduce costs, the government makes eight of the drugs here, at Rio's Far-Manguinhos lab.

Earlier this year, the United States filed and then dropped a complaint with the World Trade Organization over clauses in a Brazilian law that allow the government to break the patent of a drug and produce a similar generic version here in the case of "economic abuse" or a health "emergency."

Serra invoked that law last month when he announced that Brazil would make a generic version of the AIDS drug Nelfinavir, produced by Switzerland's Roche. He later withdrew the threat when Roche promised to slash its price by 40 percent.

In March, drug company Merck Sharp & Dohme also agreed to reduce the price of two AIDS medications by 70 percent.

Borges said drug companies tried to block the agreement with Doctors Without Borders. The two sides chose to omit details of what it will include. Still, the group is close to a separate agreement with Far-Manguinhos to supply generic drugs produced for the anti-AIDS cocktail.

"It was a strategic retreat," he said. "With the pressure from the laboratories, the moment was too turbulent for a specific agreement."

Doctors Without Borders runs more than 40 HIV or AIDS programs in 29 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.