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Brazil Should Lead on Access to Essential Medicines

By the greater use of compulsory licenses, Brazil could lower drug costs not only in Brazil, but in developing countries overall. At a time when the New York Times is reporting that "the global battle against AIDS is falling apart for lack of money," it is absolutely essential that the price of lifesaving medicines in developing countries be driven down to the absolute minimum possible.


With this in mind, I gave the following presentation on October 11 at a conference of doctors and health care workers in Sao Paulo.

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I want to begin by establishing some context that I think is important for understanding what it is that I am trying to communicate today and what it is that I am urging you to do.

If you ask yourself, how did it come to pass that important social reforms were won, an important part of the story is that groups of people banded together to pursue what they perceived to be a collective self-interest. You can't explain social change if the only possible actor in your head is an individual who is either individually self-interested or individually altruistic. Around the world, human slavery used to be commonplace, now it is not, how did that come to pass? You can't tell a story that makes sense without collective action based on perceived collective self-interest.

If you look at the anti-slavery movement in the United States, important leaders were themselves former slaves. You might say: that's no surprise, they knew what they were talking about. But if they were only acting on the basis of their individual self-interest, why bother? They were already free. Why not simply enrich themselves and tend their gardens?