[Ip-health] Toronto star editorial: "Battling AIDS: A life and death vote" (March 9, 2011)

Richard Elliott relliott at aidslaw.ca
Tue Mar 8 21:26:38 PST 2011

TORONTO STAR [editorial]
Posted online: Tue, March 8, 2011 // Print edition: Wed, March 9, 2011


Battling AIDS: A life and death vote

Jack Kamonya is a teacher and AIDS activist in Kenya who relies on antiretroviral medicines to stay healthy. He takes $88 a year worth of cheap generic drugs. But he may be living on borrowed time. 

That's because Kenya's supply of life-saving drugs is precarious. "First-line" generics from India are growing less effective as the HIV/AIDS virus mutates and becomes resistant. And many fear that impending trade deals and anti-counterfeit laws will leave "second-line" drugs available mainly from brand firms at steeper cost.

"For someone like me who is on ARVs, it is indeed a death sentence," Kamonya recently told the Inter Press Service news agency. Before generics, ARVs cost $10,000 a year, well out of his reach.

It's a life-and-death issue that Canadian MPs should bear in mind Wednesday as they vote on Bill C-393. That's the law to strengthen Canada's Access to Medicine Regime, making it easier for our generic firms to sell affordable life-saving drugs to poor countries. It is up for third reading in the Commons, before heading to the Senate. 

Former prime minister Paul Martin supports strengthening the regime, which Parliament unanimously created in 2004. So do nearly 100 high-profile Canadian physicians, scientists and health workers who signed an open letter this week.

Yet most of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's caucus does not support the bill, even though his Conservative government assured the United Nations on June 2, 2006, that it endorsed "universal access to treatment for all those who need it." That leaves Michael Ignatieff's Liberals, who themselves are divided, casting the decisive votes, with the New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois favouring the bill.

While C-393 might yet die in the Tory-dominated Senate or if there is an early election, the Liberals should nudge it forward.

The bill's key "one-licence" provision will cut red tape that impedes Canadian generic firms from supplying drugs. In future they will be able to obtain a single licence to supply a given drug to all developing countries that qualify, without having to get separate licences for each country, each drug and for limited time periods, all of which drives up costs. Brand-name drug firms will still get royalties.

The need is vast. The World Health Organization reports that 15 million people need ARV drugs, but only 5 million now get them. This refutes claims that the AIDS crisis is under control, that India is supplying all the generics that are needed, and that price is not an issue. If that were so, people like Jack Kamonya would rest easier. 

Richard Elliott
Executive Director | Directeur général
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network | Réseau juridique canadien VIH/sida 
+1 416 595-1666 (ext./poste 229) | relliott_aidslaw
www.aidslaw.ca | www.twitter.com/aidslaw 
Access to Medicines Campaign: www.aidslaw.ca/camr | www.aidslaw.ca/facebook
Campagne pour accès aux médicaments : www.aidslaw.ca/rcam | www.aidslaw.ca/facebook
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