National Institutes of Health AIDS researchers discuss research in doorway of laboratory HIV/AIDS researchers at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, 1985
Courtesy Nathan Benn

Access to Antiretroviral Drugs

Patents protect drug companies’ rights to the products they develop. They have generated intense controversy in the global health community. Until they expire, patents prevent others from making the same drug available at a lower price. Recently, some countries have challenged patent law in order to produce cheap AIDS medications for poor patients. Critics argue that this will discourage researchers from developing new medicines.

Take a look at some of the different viewpoints below and follow the links to learn more.

Do you think patents help or harm the development of medicines and patients’ access to them?


"In America one of the ways we reward innovation is by granting a patent, if you take a risk and you make an investment and succeed you have the exclusive right to sell what you invent and you have the right to profit if you can."

— President George W. Bush, 2002

"Without patents, the [pharmaceutical] industry ceases to exist."

— Jean-Pierre Garnier, 2001
Then Chief Executive of GlaxoSmithKline

"Some would argue that this is a business like any other; I would argue a business that each year posts impressive profits in selling medications to the sick might have a special obligation to think of those who are both sick and poor."

— Paul Farmer, 2000
Founder of Partners in Health, United States

"A medical prize fund provides an alternative. Such a fund would give large rewards for cures or vaccines for diseases like malaria that affect millions, and smaller rewards for drugs that are similar to existing ones..."

— Joseph E Stiglitz, 2006
Nobel Prize-Winning Economist

"It's all a big agreement to keep developing nations hostage to the multinational industry."

— Pedro Chequer, 2004
Head of Brazil's AIDS program

"We must encourage innovation, drive down prices through partnerships and competition, and make distribution and use of medicines more efficient."

— Gordon Brown and Hilary Benn, 2006
Then Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretary of State for International Development, United Kingdom




patent laws should be reviewed and other pharmaceutical firms be allowed to produce retro-viral drugs and made available to poor patients especially in Nigeria especially because many patients do not have access to these drugs.

I think that it should be limit for the patent or an expiration date, that way the companies, investing the time and money, will be able to get some of their investement back.

Or add more $$$$ to the Novel Prize.

When people are suffering because they cannot afford access to important drugs it is immoral. I understand that we need to encourage research-but there has to be another way besides patents that prevent or slow access to important medications.

Pharma spends billions of dollars in research and development and they need to make a return on that investment and patents afford them the opportunity to do so - there is nothing wrong with that.
In the US patients can get access to HIV/AIDS medications through a variety of channels and yet, too often, the patients don't take the medications properly (or at all)...that's not pharma's fault

I think this would help the development of a vaccine to help prevent AIDS.

I think that patents help medicine because it prevents cheap, ineffective knock-off medicine from being made in the first few years. After that, the patent expires which is a good thing because it gives other companies the right to expand and improve that medicine.

Scientists should know that their research to find medicine for such diseases a AIDS can save numerous people. Patents only protect the scientists, not those who actually have the illness and need a cure.

I can see both points that are brought up above, but too often drug companies spend their money on developing lifestyle drugs instead of really curing anything of substance. I'm sure Viagra has helped thousands of men become happier, but has it saved any lives?

Patents are an incentive for research and investment, they are not the enemy, We need innovative solutions by which everyone has equal access, that is defined by their health status and not by their financial status. The solution is not to de-incentivize pharma companies and their investors/stockholders. The solution is about bringing pharma to the table and find ways to increase access and equity. We must stop seeing pharma as the enemy, without vaccines and medicines, health status will not be the same. Unless governments are willing to invest their budgets in research, let’s not kill pharmaceutical research. A win-win solution is needed and our efforts should be geared into finding the solution not criticizing the pharma industry.

The availability of profits do often drive innovation, so I see that point, however the results of innovation should not be the exclusive domain of the privileged when people's health and a nation's well being is on the line. One could investigate the entire process/costs of bringing drugs to market, look for efficiencies there, then determine percent of reduced cost/free drugs that the pharmaceutical needs to make available in order to be granted the patent.

Checking out this site, pretty cool!

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