domingo, setembro 25, 2005

OMS recomenda produção de anti-retrovirais genéricos

AP 22.09.05

NOUMEA, New Caledonia -- Countries facing severe HIV and AIDS epidemics should consider using domestic or international trade rules to circumvent patent laws on anti-retroviral drug therapies, a World Health Organization official said Friday.

Dr. Bernard Fabre-Teste, WHO's adviser for the disease in the Western Pacific region, said the lack of low-cost AIDS drugs was "a key problem" for many developing countries. "Which is why we need the possibility to have production of generic drugs by developing countries like India, China (and) Vietnam," Fabre-Teste told The Associated Press on the last day of a WHO conference in New Caledonia.

He said poor countries should consider using international treaties or take unilateral action to sidestep existing patents on key anti-retroviral drugs, which help prevent the AIDS virus from reproducing in the body. A World Trade Organization agreement reached in 2003 allows countries facing a public health emergency to issue "compulsory licenses" to manufacture generic versions of patented drugs. It also allows those countries to export generic drugs to other countries that have no domestic pharmaceuticals industry.

However, Fabre-Teste said no country had yet used the WTO provision, apparently fearing trade sanctions from countries where the patents are held. He said government ministers should work together to ensure their countries' public health needs were not being sacrificed for economic or trade interests. "The problem is we need good collaboration and coordination between different ministers, different bodies in the government," Fabre-Teste said. "Because it's not the minister of health (alone) who will make this decision."

Earlier this year, the Brazilian government threatened to use the WTO provision to break the patent on the AIDS drug Kaletra unless its manufacturer, U.S.-based Abbott Laboratories Inc., significantly reduced the price of the medication. However, the WTO provision was left untested when the Brazilian health ministry announced in July it had reached an agreement with Abbott. An after-hours phone call to Abbott's head office in Illinois seeking comment on Fabre-Teste's remarks was not immediately answered Friday.

Aside from using the WTO provision, Fabre-Teste also said governments should consider taking unilateral steps to allow generic AIDS drugs to be imported from countries that produce them. In 2004, the Malaysian government enacted a law allowing it to import generic versions of AIDS drugs for "non commercial" or non-profit distribution, Malaysia's Health Minister Chua Soi Lek told The AP. Since then, the price of delivering AIDS drugs has dropped by 90 percent and the number of patients receiving treatment increased from 1,500 in 2003 to 3,000 in 2004, Chua said. The government expected to have 5,000 people in treatment by the end of2005, he added. The health minister said Malaysia had not faced any backlash from trading partners as a result of decision.

Fabre-Teste said China, India and Vietnam were the most likely countries from which poorer nations could buy generic versions of patented AIDS drugs, although other countries were also beginning to step-up production. "This kind of decision is really a sign of political commitment for public health," said Fabre-Teste, adding Malaysia's lead was one "other countries around the world should follow."

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