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Indonesia overrides patents on HIV drugs

President Yudhoyono issued a decree last month allowing cheap local production of drugs that treat HIV
Abacavir patented by Glaxo Smith Kline is one of the drugs that will be produced cheaply in Indonesia

The Indonesian government has acted to tackle the nation’s HIV crisis by overriding international pharmaceutical companys’ patents on HIV drugs.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono quietly issued an order to start producing drugs patented by global pharmaceutical companies like Glaxo Smith Kline on home soil, Reuters reports.

World Trade Organization rules stipulate that countries can override patents when it is necessary to protect public health.

Indonesia has one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world. A study from the national AIDS Prevention and Control Commission found that 34% of waria (transgender women) in Jakarta were HIV positive and less than half used condoms on a regular basis (many are sex workers).

President Yudhoyono’s decision to authorize the production of cheap locally made drugs to treat HIV sets a precedent for other countries with HIV crises to do the same.

The move was welcomed by Médicins Sans Frontières but a spokesperson for the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations told Reuters that actions like this should only be a last resort.

‘[It] sets a negative precedent and can reduce the incentive to invest in the research and development of new medicines, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis therapies,’ said Andrew Jenner, director of innovation, intellectual property and trade.

‘We believe that negotiated approaches, such as tiered pricing or voluntary licensing, are generally more effective and sustainable, both medically and economically.’

The companies that own the drug patents will receive a 0.5% royalty payment.

Public Citizen, who first broke the story, said ‘the Presidential decree is part of an effort to greatly expand access to newer and more appropriate antiviral and antiretroviral treatments in Indonesia’.  

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