Saturday, May 05, 2007
Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio da Silva has barred American pharmaceutical giant Merck from the local market for refusing to drop its prices for the AIDS treatment drug Elfavirenz. Having failed to lower the price to Brazil's request of 65¢, the company was told by Lula that they will no longer have the right to market the drug in the country. The Brazilians also insist that they are not in violation of World Trade Organisation rules, as such a measure is permissible in the event of a 'sanitary emergency'. The AIDS epidemic in the Southern countries is indeed a sanitary emergency as Merck and other pharmaceutical leeches know and see the opportunity to make a sure killing on a ready demand for their wares; they have however been taken off guard by a president with enough balls and power to step in and say that enough is enough. Brazil will now turn to India and the duplication of generic prescription drugs based on Elfavirenz. Free-market fundamentalists, who generally view the rights of corporations as of greater importance than those of humans, will, of course, cry foul but Lula's reaction is in marked contrast to the scattershot confrontationalism of Hugo Chávez, and he is doing something that has already been implemented by India (and hopefully soon South Africa too, once it rids itself of its AIDS-denying President Thabo Mbeki). One also hopes that this increasingly powerful bloc will supply countries smaller and poorer than them with the drug. As for the pharmaceutical companies and their perennially specious analogies of breaking into a pharmacy and stealing stocks, they should be encouraged to go whistle.