Sustaining access to antiretroviral therapy in developing countries: lessons from Brazil and Thailand
Authors: Nathan Forda, David Wilsona, Gabriela Costa Chavesb, Michel Lotrowskab and Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul
Antiretroviral rollout in Brazil and Thailand Brazil and Thailand are among few developing countries to achieve universal access to antiretroviral therapy. Three factors were critical to this success: legislation for free access to treatment; public sector capacity to manufacture medicines; and strong civil society action to support government initiatives to improve access.
Local production of affordable, non-patented drugs Many older antiretroviral drugs are not patented in either country and affordable generic versions are manufactured by local pharmaceutical institutes.
Efforts to ensure access to expensive, patented drugs developing countries were not required to grant patents on medicines until 2005, but under US government threats of trade sanctions, Thailand and Brazil began doing so at least ten years prior to this date. Brazil has used price negotiations with multi-national pharmaceutical companies to lower the price of newer patented antiretrovirals. However, the prices obtained by this approach remain unaffordable. Thailand recently employed compulsory licensing for two antiretrovirals, obtaining substantial price reductions, both for generic and brand products. Following Thailand’s example, Brazil has issued its first compulsory license.
Lessons learned Middle-income countries are unable to pay the high prices of multinational pharmaceutical companies. By relying on negotiations with companies, Brazil pays up to four times more for some drugs compared with prices available internationally. Compulsory licensing has brought treatment with newer antiretrovirals within reach in Thailand, but has resulted in pressure from industry and the US government. An informed and engaged civil society is essential to support governments in putting health before trade.