[Ip-health] News: thestar.com - Canada's promise to Africa hangs by a thread

Marine Avrillon Marine at haieurope.org
Mon Nov 8 02:00:52 PST 2010

Canada's promise to Africa hangs by a thread 


By Carol Goar


Published On Sun Nov 7 2010 


Everyone from K'naan to Karen Kain got involved. Diplomats and environmentalists spoke out. Churches and charities mobilized their members. A coalition of grandmothers demonstrated on Parliament Hill. A former prime minister, former lieutenant governor and Nobel Prize winner raised their voices. Lawyers, professors and union leaders took a stand. Thousands of Canadians signed petitions, wrote postcards and lobbied their MPs.


The effort failed. 


Last week, Parliament's industry, science and technology committee eviscerated a private member's bill that would have allowed Canada's generic drug makers to export affordable medicine to the world's poorest people.


The 11 MPs didn't quite kill the legislation. They sent it back to the House of Commons - stripped of its key provisions - to meet its fate.


"This was a shameful display of putting the interests of the extraordinarily profitable brand-name pharmaceutical industry ahead of the lives of millions of poor people," said Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.


He hasn't given up hope. There is still a chance - albeit a small one - that Bill C-393 can be salvaged before the final vote.


Eighty per cent of Canadians support the legislation, Elliott points out. Groups far beyond the AIDS community have taken up the cause. And more than 90 of today's MPs were in the House when Jean Chrétien made his promise to Africa. It was a proud moment. 


The former prime minister pledged in 2002 that Canada would take the lead in getting low-cost medicine into the hands of people dying of AIDS, malaria and other treatable diseases.


His successor, Paul Martin, followed through on the commitment. In 2004, he introduced the "Jean Chrétien Pledge to Africa Act," giving Canada's generic drug makers the right to override international patent rules on shipments of essential medicines to developing countries. The bill received unanimous - and enthusiastic - parliamentary assent. Congratulations poured in from around the world.


Then things started to unravel. It took federal officials a year to convert the principles in the bill into policy regulations. When they finished, the new law was loaded with so many restrictions and procedural hurdles that no generic drug company wanted to use it. 


Some blamed lobbying by the global pharmaceutical giants. Some said it was routine bureaucratic niggling.


Only one shipment - a cocktail of antiretroviral medications bound for Rwanda - has gone out under the 6-year-old law. The process was so cumbersome and expensive that, without an overhaul, it will never be repeated.


That prompted New Democrat Judy Wasylycia-Leis to put forward Bill C-393. Seeking to unblock the flow of live-saving medications, she drafted streamlined rules and less onerous requirements.


But last spring, she stepped down to run in the Winnipeg mayoral race, asking her colleague, industry critic Brian Masse, to take over.


The Windsor MP did his best. He won the backing of two Liberals and two members of the Bloc Québécois on the parliamentary committee reviewing the bill. But they were outnumbered by five Conservatives and one Liberal - industry critic Marc Garneau - who gutted it.


There is one final stage of debate, but it is fraught with problems.


The Conservatives could challenge Masse's right to sponsor the bill. Or they could try to pry loose more Liberals like Garneau, assuring the bill's defeat and embarrassing party leader Michael Ignatieff.


Elliott, a human rights lawyer, expects both. 


But he has survived years of parliamentary setbacks, bureaucratic resistance and multi-million-dollar muscle flexing by the powerful pharmaceutical industry.


He is up for one more battle and he has highly motivated troops.


The odds are long, Elliott acknowledges. "But we've still got some fight left in us."




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