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  Fight to Get Cheap Drugs to Africa at Critical Stage
  28 มกราคม 2554

Date: 28 January 2011

The eight-year fight between big pharma, generic drug makers, AIDS lobbyists and international humanitarian organizations over Canada`s ability to send life-saving medicine to Africa could be days from the finish line.

As Parliament resumes Monday, among the first items up for debate are fixes to Canada`s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) - legislation enabling generic makers to send life-saving drugs to needy countries.

The legislation was enshrined in 2003 by the Liberal government and at the time it was hailed by the international community as a trail-blazing Canadian effort to save lives in poor countries with no ability to make or purchase medication for AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

But the private member`s bill aimed at fixing CAMR`s flaws might die after its sponsor, New Democratic Party MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, quit last year to run for mayor of Winnipeg. She lost.

Her exit leaves bill C-393 in limbo. It can`t move to third reading unless all parties allow for a new sponsor to come forward.

NDP MP Brian Masse (Windsor West) wants to take C-393 over.

Supporters are hoping Prime Minister Stephen Harper - whose government has been less than supportive of the amendments - doesn`t stand in the way by letting Conservative MPs vote against the change in sponsorship.

"Let this go to a vote - respect democracy," said Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

The bill needs to be democratically debated and improved, critics say.

Only one generic drug maker, Apotex Inc., has managed to use the legislation to make one drug, a triple combination anti-AIDS medication.

In 2009, Apotex shipped enough medication to treat 21,000 Rwandan AIDS patients for two years.

But Apotex said the process to make the pills was so bureaucratically cumbersome - it involved talks with the patent holding brand-name pharmaceutical firms, Health Canada and dealing with countries interested in getting the drugs - that if the bill is not made easier to use they won`t use it again.

Wasylycia-Leis put forward a private members bill on May 25, 2009 which proposed a one-license solution.

It allows for a generic drug maker to only apply for one drug-making license and that license would let them supply to any of the eligible countries in need, which are already listed in the current law. It also covers repeats.

However, last October, Liberal industry critic MP Marc Garneau introduced amendments at committee to effectively get rid of the one-license proposal. His vote, added to that of the Conservative MPs on the committee, meant these changes were made and now the bill, in its weaker form, will be debated in the House Monday.

The bill`s supporters hope they`ll be able to reverse Garneau`s changes and say his position is that of a small minority within the Liberal caucus.

Masse feels Canada owes it to the world to improve bill C-393, especially after trumpeting the legislation to Third World nations as a means to help them fight public health epidemics.

"If we don`t live (up to) our responsibilities we`ll have misled the world," Masse said in an interview. "We promise to make sure affordable, low cost drugs to address suffering and dying were available but we never lived up to that."

Masse said he was stunned when the Commons industry science and technology committee "gutted the bill".

"It is shocking. Given the global circumstances we`ve had - floods, earthquakes, natural disasters - there has never been a more opportune time," he said.

The Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc are expected not to block Masse`s sponsorship, said Elliott.

Apotex sent a letter on January 19 to all MPs urging them to reconsider Bill C-393`s pledge to Africa. If a one-license solution is adopted, Apotex said it will manufacture a triple-combination anti-AIDS medication for children - something the developing world desperately needs.

No one knows if the Tories will support Masse`s move, said Elliott.

But Elliott hopes the prime minister will look kindly on the sponsorship change because he was once in a similar position.

In 1997, a then back-bench Reform Party MP Stephen Harper put forward a private member`s bill that he had to drop when he resigned his seat. The act was to establish terms that must apply to a referendum relating to the separation of Quebec from Canada. Reform Party Leader Preston Manning took over as the bill`s sponsor.

"It would be beyond irresponsible that a bill addressing a critical issue - the global AIDS crisis - and one of great importance to many Canadians, be allowed to die because of a procedural technicality," Elliott said.


Keywords: HIV/AIDS / Canada / Drugs