Brazil Health Official On Progress of HIV Prevention
CHERYL CORLEY, Host:
Here to talk more about this is Mariangela Simao, who heads Brazil's national program against HIV/AIDS. Welcome to the program.
MARIANGELA SIMAO: Thank you, Cheryl.
CORLEY: Well, Brazil has largely fought HIV/AIDS by producing anti-viral drugs at a reduced cost, making it accessible to most people in the country. But that's really a controversial move because Brazil doesn't have permission to do so by companies with patents on those drugs. So tell us how this program has been working.
SIMAO: Yeah, I think first we have to make it very clear that the Brazilian production of ARV drugs is permitted by international regulations, as the drugs that are being produced locally were not under patent when Brazilian patent law was approved at the Congress.
CORLEY: So you're saying it's doing this legally, then.
SIMAO: We introduced a new drug that is used - what's called now, a third line drug, that's used for patients who have already failed all types of treatment for AIDS. So what we are really doing is looking for sustainability, long-term sustainability. And we are not willing to pay more than we should for drugs that are available in the market for a long time.
CORLEY: Well, another difference between Brazil and many other countries fighting this disease is your use of non-governmental organizations. And how are your NGOs doing this?
SIMAO: So when we talk about the Brazilian experience, we don't say the government of Brazil or we don't say that - we say the Brazilian response, because the Brazilian response was made up by the government, by the civil society organizations, by the university and researchers that work with us and fight against AIDS.
CORLEY: Have pharmaceutical companies been complaining about Brazil's manufacturing at all?
SIMAO: But we fight every year to lower down the prices of ARVs. As we understand, we have a duty to provide for patients the best treatment available. But we have to work with our budget, and we have to think about long-term sustainability.
CORLEY: It's interesting that you mention Merck. I understand your president has authorized Brazil to break the patent on an AIDS drug made by Merck and to import a generic version from India instead. So are those the types of things that you will be continuing to do?
SIMAO: I think that's our goal, to ensure that universal access in Brazil is sustainable on the long term. Because right now, like I said, we have 180,000 people with treatment, and it's free treatment. And we have, every year, around 15, 17,000 new patients entering treatment. So we have to think in the long term.
CORLEY: I wanted to take you back to the decision to go ahead and get the generic drugs from India. Merck said it was profoundly disappointed, calling the decision a quote, misappropriation of intellectual property that would stifle research. And I was wondering if you had any fear of that at all?
SIMAO: SO if Merck thought that Brazil was unreliable, Merck wouldn't register a new drug in Brazil. So what we do have is a commercial relation. Merck already offered to sell.
CORLEY: You're not just keeping the fight local. You're taking it to other countries, and the president of Zambia, for instance, has complimented Brazil for donating Portuguese-language material on HIV/AIDS. And it was later distributed in Zambia, a former colony, of course, of Portugal. Tell us about this.
SIMAO: I'm just saying that as an example of how we can work collaboratively as a network and help each other. Also, because we do with some of these countries, we provide treatment with ARVs produced in Brazil. For example, in Guinea-Bissau we provide like 1,100 treatments for people who live with AIDS in Guinea-Bissau with Brazilian-produced drugs. And that's a kind of solidarity type of cooperation, you know, because Brazil's not a rich country but we share our doctors and the doctors from Guinea-Bissau, they come to Brazil and they're trained in Brazilian health centers, and they go back and we help them and we help each other. And I think that is quite appropriate for the Portuguese-speaking countries to work together with such issues that affect all of us.
CORLEY: Mariangela Simao is the director of Brazil's national AIDS program. She joined us from New York where she attended the joint U.N. program on HIV/AIDS. Thank you so much.
SUMAR: Thank you, Cheryl.
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