Little is known about the long-term drug costs associated with treating AIDS in developing countries. Brazil's AIDS treatment program has been cited widely as the developing world's largest and most successful AIDS treatment program. The program guarantees free access to highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) for all people living with HIV/AIDS in need of treatment. Brazil produces non-patented generic antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), procures many patented ARVs with negotiated price reductions, and recently issued a compulsory license to import one patented ARV. In this study, we investigate the drivers of recent ARV cost trends in Brazil through analysis of drug-specific prices and expenditures between 2001 and 2005.
Methods and Findings
We compared Brazil's ARV prices to those in other low- and middle-income countries. We analyzed trends in drug expenditures for HAART in Brazil from 2001 to 2005 on the basis of cost data disaggregated by each ARV purchased by the Brazilian program. We decomposed the overall changes in expenditures to compare the relative impacts of changes in drug prices and drug purchase quantities. We also estimated the excess costs attributable to the difference between prices for generics in Brazil and the lowest global prices for these drugs. Finally, we estimated the savings attributable to Brazil's reduced prices for patented drugs. Negotiated drug prices in Brazil are lowest for patented ARVs for which generic competition is emerging. In recent years, the prices for efavirenz and lopinavir–ritonavir (lopinavir/r) have been lower in Brazil than in other middle-income countries. In contrast, the price of tenofovir is US$200 higher per patient per year than that reported in other middle-income countries. Despite precipitous price declines for four patented ARVs, total Brazilian drug expenditures doubled, to reach US$414 million in 2005. We find that the major driver of cost increases was increased purchase quantities of six specific drugs: patented lopinavir/r, efavirenz, tenofovir, atazanavir, enfuvirtide, and a locally produced generic, fixed-dose combination of zidovudine and lamivudine (AZT/3TC). Because prices declined for many of the patented drugs that constitute the largest share of drug costs, nearly the entire increase in overall drug expenditures between 2001 and 2005 is attributable to increases in drug quantities. Had all drug quantities been held constant from 2001 until 2005 (or for those drugs entering treatment guidelines after 2001, held constant between the year of introduction and 2005), total costs would have increased by only an estimated US$7 million. We estimate that in the absence of price declines for patented drugs, Brazil would have spent a cumulative total of US$2 billion on drugs for HAART between 2001 and 2005, implying a savings of US$1.2 billion from price declines. Finally, in comparing Brazilian prices for locally produced generic ARVs to the lowest international prices meeting global pharmaceutical quality standards, we find that current prices for Brazil's locally produced generics are generally much higher than corresponding global prices, and note that these prices have risen in Brazil while declining globally. We estimate the excess costs of Brazil's locally produced generics totaled US$110 million from 2001 to 2005.
Despite Brazil's more costly generic ARVs, the net result of ARV price changes has been a cost savings of approximately US$1 billion since 2001. HAART costs have nevertheless risen steeply as Brazil has scaled up treatment. These trends may foreshadow future AIDS treatment cost trends in other developing countries as more people start treatment, AIDS patients live longer and move from first-line to second and third-line treatment, AIDS treatment becomes more complex, generic competition emerges, and newer patented drugs become available. The specific application of the Brazilian model to other countries will depend, however, on the strength of their health systems, intellectual property regulations, epidemiological profiles, AIDS treatment guidelines, and differing capacities to produce drugs locally.
Amy Nunn and colleagues analyze the cost of antiretroviral drugs in Brazil between 2001 and 2005 and discuss the implications for HIV treatment in other developing countries.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed 29 million people since the first case occurred in 1981 and an estimated 40 million people live with HIV/AIDS today. AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which destroys the immune system. Infected individuals are consequently very susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-positive individuals died within a few years of becoming infected. Then, in 1996, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART)—a cocktail of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs)—was developed. For people who could afford HAART (which holds HIV infections in check), AIDS became a chronic disease. People who start HAART must keep taking it or their illness will progress.
Unfortunately, few people in low- and middle-income countries could afford these expensive drugs. In 2001, ARV prices fell in developing countries as AIDS activists and developing country governments challenged pharmaceutical companies about ARV prices, pharmaceutical companies set tiered prices for the low- and middle-income countries and more generic (inexpensive copies of brand-named drugs) ARVs became available. In 2003, the lack of access to HIV/AIDS treatment was declared a global health emergency. Governments, international organizations, and funding bodies began to set targets and provide funds to increase access to HAART in developing countries. By 2007, over 2 million people in low- and middle-income countries had access to HAART, but another 5 million remain in urgent need of drugs for treatment.
Why Was This Study Done?
In 1995, many countries in the world signed the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement, which requires countries to acknowledge intellectual property rights for many products, including pharmaceuticals. In 1996, Brazil became the first developing country to commit to and implement policies to provide free and universal access to HAART. Since then, Brazil's successful AIDS treatment program has become a model for the developing world, and 180,000 Brazilians were receiving HAART at the end of 2006. However, as a WTO member that signed on to the TRIPS agreement, Brazil was required to recognize the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies' patented ARVs. As Brazil scaled up treatment in the late 1990s, the cost of treating AIDS patients rose quickly and the country took controversial public policy steps to reduce the cost of providing HAART to people living with HIV/AIDS. Brazil produces several non-patented ARVs locally, and since 2001 has challenged multinational pharmaceutical companies about the prices of patented ARVs. To induce price reductions for patented ARVs, Brazil has threatened to issue compulsory licenses (which under WTO terms allow countries facing a health emergency to produce patented drugs without consent of the company holding the patent). Brazil also recently issued a compulsory license for one ARV.
Although world leaders have set a target of universal access to HAART by 2010, little is known about the long-term costs of AIDS treatment in developing countries. In this study, the researchers have investigated how and why the costs of ARVs changed in Brazil between 2001 and 2005 and discuss the relevance of the Brazilian model for AIDS treatment for other resource-limited settings.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed the prices for each ARV recommended in Brazil's therapeutic guidelines for adults and estimated the changes in purchase quantities for each between 2001 and 2005. These changes likely stem from the growing number of options in Brazil's treatment guidelines, the steadily rising number of patients commencing treatment, and patients' shifts to second- and third-line treatments when their HIV infection became resistant to first-line drugs or they developed side effects. The researchers report that the generic drugs produced in Brazil were generally more expensive than similar drugs made elsewhere, but Brazil's negotiated drug prices for many patented ARVs were lower than elsewhere. Overall, total annual drug expenditure on ARVs doubled between 2001 and 2005, reaching US$414 million in 2005. Because many drug prices fell sharply as a result of declining patented drug prices over the study period, this increase was mainly attributable to increases in drug quantities purchased. If these quantities had stayed constant, the total annual cost would have increased by only $7 million, to $211 million. Conversely, without the decrease in the price of patented drugs, Brazil would have spent $952 million annually by 2005. If Brazil had enjoyed the lowest global prices for generic medicines, the total costs per year in 2005 would have been $367 million, or nearly $50 million less than the costs Brazil actually realized.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings tease out the many factors—clinical, commercial, and political—that affected the total costs of the Brazilian AIDS treatment program between 2001 and 2005.
Brazil's ability to produce generic drugs facilitated Brazil's price negotiations for patented drugs. Although Brazil saved approximately US$1 billion over the study period as a result of declining prices for patented medicines, the cost of producing generic drugs locally has risen while the prices for generic drugs have fallen elsewhere. Brazil's recent decision to import a generic ARV using a compulsory license suggests that the Brazilian model for AIDS treatment continues to evolve.
Questions remain about the precise causes of year-to-year cost trends in Brazil because, for example, the researchers did not have full data on when patients switched from first-line to second- or third-line drugs. The observed steep rise in costs from 2004 to 2005 in particular warrants further analysis. In addition, the findings may not be generalizable to countries with different policies on HIV/AIDS treatment, different access to generic drugs, or different bargaining power with multinational drug companies. Nevertheless, the trends this study highlights provide important information about how AIDS treatment costs are likely to evolve in other developing countries as efforts are made to provide universal access to life-saving ARVs.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040305.
Information from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
Information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on global HIV/AIDS topics (in English and Spanish)
HIV InSite, comprehensive and up-to-date information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS from the University of California San Francisco
Information from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on HIV and AIDS in Brazil and on HIV/AIDS treatment and care, including universal access to ARVs
Progress towards universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment, the latest report from the World Health Organization (available in several languages)
The National STD and AIDS Program of Brazil