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Chamber of Deputies unanimously approves parliamentary bill to free Aids drug patents
The Constitution, Justice and Citizenship Commission of the Chamber of Deputies (CCJ) unanimously approved, this Wednesday, Bill Number 22/03 submitted by Federal Deputy Roberto Gouveia (PT-São Paulo). This Bill modifies Article 18 of the Brazilian Patents Law (9.279/96), thereby freeing Aids drugs, together with their manufacturing processes, from patent coverage. This will enable Brazilian manufacturing laboratories to make such drugs.
Deputies from different political parties have taken the view that public health interests as well as those related to life itself take precedence over industrial rights and they therefore voted unanimously for the constitutionality of the proposal put forward by Deputy Roberto Gouveia. Deputy Antonio Carlos Biscaia (PT-Rio de Janeiro), the Reporter for the bill, explained that protection under the Constitution of industrial inventions is "not absolute", but conditional on the interests of society as a whole. The Bill will now proceed to the Federal Senate for appraisal.
Voting on the Bill in the CCJ was accompanied by activists from all over Brazil, together with representatives of the National STD/Aids Program. Every time there was a vote cast in favor of the Bill the activists responded with loud applause, raising placards supporting approval of the Bill. When the Table Chairman, Federal Deputy José Mentor (PT-Sao Paulo), announced the end result of the vote, Plenary Number 1 of the Annex to the Chamber of Deputies witnessed emotional scenes. Activists, parliamentarians and representatives of the Federal Government embraced one another and congratulated each other on the victory. A number of them were moved to tears. Roberto Gouveia was particularly touched by the outcome of the vote and said he was confident that the Senate would go ahead and approve the measure. He said "the Bill will enter the Federal Senate with strong backing, totally legitimized by all the commissions that it has transited". Deputy Gouveia added that the proposal does not fly in the face of any international agreement. "On the contrary", he declared, "we are doing what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates. We are acting in defense of life itself".
Laurinha Brelaz of the Manaus Friendship and Solidarity Network considered that approval of the Bill in the CCJ was an important landmark in the struggle against the Aids epidemic. She declared that "the Bill will make it possible to manufacture cheaper medicines, therefore increasing and ensuring access to treatment for Aids patients". Laurinha went on to call attention to the fact that the Bill still has to go through the Senate and for that reason the movement in its support "must continue its active role, otherwise the multinational drug companies can try to bring influence to bear on our Senators".
Currently, eight of the 16 antiretroviral drugs used in Aids treatment and distributed through the Public Health network in Brazil are under patent protection. Over 70% of the amount spent by the Ministry of Health on acquiring anti-Aids drugs are in fact spent on only three of these particular medicines. For the Director of the Brazilian National STD/Aids Program, Dr Pedro Chequer, approval of this Bill will mark a watershed internationally and can open up new negotiating possibilities. In Dr Chequer's words "this crowns the Doha Declaration and is in line with what the World Health Organization has been extolling - that medical drugs for treating Aids are a right of humanity".
The Bill was voted conclusively and now goes to the Federal Senate. There is no requirement for it to be submitted to the Chamber of Deputies Plenary. If it is approved by the Senate with no amendments, it will then be submitted to the President of the Republic for ratification.