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  Time to deliver on life-saving promise of Bill C-393?
  06 มีนาคม 2554

Date: 6 March 2011

At long last, the campaign to fix Canada`s broken Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) is on the brink of success. This week, it depends on the willingness and commitment of Members of Parliament to do the right thing by passing private member`s Bill C-393 in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening in the House of Commons. It then falls to the Senate to act without delay to approve the bill.

Last week, the House of Commons voted to restore the core clauses to Bill C-393 that had been stripped from it at committee, a triumph for supporters of the bill. In particular, the House has restored the "one-licence clause" that is the key change needed to streamline the current cumbersome Access to Medicines Regime and make it workable.

First created in 2004 by a unanimous vote in both houses of Parliament, CAMR was intended to deliver less expensive, generic versions of high-priced, brand-name medicines to those suffering and dying in developing countries from public health problems, including HIV. The life-saving promise of CAMR transcended partisan politics and all MPs and senators agreed: people should not die simply because they cannot afford medication.

But, as is sometimes the case, what works on paper has not worked in practice. In reality, and as predicted by NGOs at the time of its inception, CAMR has proven to be a cumbersome and unworkable "non-solution" to the problem of unaffordable medicines in developing countries.

In its seven years of existence, CAMR has been used only once, to deliver a single order of one AIDS medicine to one country (Rwanda). The Canadian generic drug company that made this single act of humanitarianism happen has made it clear that it won`t jump through CAMR`s current bureaucratic hoops a second time around.

Yet it has also repeatedly committed to trying again if Bill C-393`s key reforms are passed by Parliament. Its first step will be to use the simplified CAMR to produce a child-suitable version of a much-needed AIDS drug.

Alas, until such reforms are implemented, nobody else is willing to use the current CAMR either. Medecins Sans Frontieres ultimately abandoned its long effort to use CAMR because of unnecessary hurdles. Representatives from developing countries who have considered CAMR consistently wonder why Canada made the regime user-unfriendly in the first place and if it was ever actually intended to work.

Enter Bill C-393, a beacon of hope in the quest to fix CAMR. This "little bill that could" has overcome hurdle after hurdle to get this far, thanks to the support and concern of thousands and thousands of Canadians.

Hundreds of members of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign have mobilized in over 200 groups across the country; 32,000 Canadians signed a petition tabled in Parliament; more than 12,000 sent postcards to the Industry Committee. Tens of thousands have emailed, written or called their MPs. Dozens of diverse faith leaders, including the most senior representatives of numerous religious traditions, have echoed the call, as have dozens of leading physicians and other health professionals, in an open letter to Parliamentarians issued today. Dozens of prominent Canadians, including the former prime minister whose government created CAMR in the first place, have done the same.

Bill C-393 has widespread support in the House of Commons, across party lines, in keeping with the wishes of Canadians - a national poll found that 80 per cent support the bill to make CAMR work. Indeed, so they should. Fixing CAMR is the right thing to do. Even better, it costs taxpayers nothing - and in fact, means that taxpayer dollars for foreign aid can be used even more effectively to get more medicines to more people. This is "value for money."

Happily for concerned Canadians, even with opposition from the current federal government and an active campaign of misinformation by "Big Pharma," there may be light at the end of the tunnel for Bill C-393.

The New Democratic Party (which brought forward the bill), the Bloc Quebecois and the Liberal Party are now all officially on record as supporting Bill C-393 - and a growing number of Conservative MPs have confirmed they too will vote in support of the bill at third reading.

Bill C-393 presents Parliamentarians, in both the House and the Senate, with a chance to co-operate across party lines and deliver, at long last, on Parliament`s unanimous pledge to developing countries made almost seven years ago when it first created CAMR. The question now is whether they will seize this opportunity or squander it - and whether those suffering and dying in the developing world will live or be left to die. On the eve of a possible election, Canadians are watching.


Keywords: Medicines / Access / HIV / CAMR