It went relatively unnoticed and unremarked here, but the recent US-Brazilian agreement on AIDS drugs looks to be a huge step forward and a model for how to get anti-retroviral drugs to the 40+ million people around the world who will die without them.
However, it ain't all rosy yet. In order to take advantage of the new agreement and the recent "Doha" ruling of the WTO, developing nations need to be able to manufacture their own generic versions of patented drugs, something which very few have the pharma-industrial capacity to do:
"...making quality antiretrovirals is neither cheap nor easy, even for richer countries. It requires a substantial investment, an industrial manufacturing base and technical manpower. Aside from Brazil, Thailand and Cuba's state programs, only a half-dozen private companies in India and China meet that criteria for making pills. Globally, not many can even produce the necessary raw materials."
But again, Brazil is taking the lead, exporting technical expertise, and paying to set up 10 pilot national "proof of concept" production labs in various developing countries.
Patents are what's at stake, both in the US-Brazilian agreement and the Doha ruling, specifically the fears of Big Pharma that if their patents are weakened at all, the diffusion of free biotechnology tools and innovative lab techniques will flood the world market with comparatively dirt cheap drugs, not only for AIDS, but for Malaria, Tuberculosis and a variety of other diseases. That, they say, would cut their profits so severely that they couldn't afford to research new cures.
Well spotted Alex, it's a pretty interesting story. I hear that it's actually having impact now with AIDS figures falling significantly.
The current issue of New Internationalist is a special on Big Pharma - http://www.newint.org/index4.html