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Lewis tells MPs to fix drugs to Africa law

[PoliticsWatch updated 7:00 p.m. April 18, 2007]

OTTAWA  — The former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa told a committee of MPs Wednesday that Canada's legislation designed to send cheaper, generic copies of patented drugs to developing countries is failing and needs to be fixed.        
 
Stephen Lewis made the comments to the MPs via video conference and his plea was later echoed by representatives from six other non-governmental organizations. 

"It's clear to everyone that the legislation is deeply flawed," he bluntly told the committee. 

"I think everything is essentially in place in Canada except we have lousy legislation that doesn't work."

The Commons industry committee has been holding hearings this week into the law which have been watched closely by foreign aid groups and Canadian drug companies. 

Canada's Access to Medicines Regime, a program that allows generic drug companies in Canada to sell drugs currently under patent protection to developing nations, has failed to send a single drug to a developing nation since it became law in 2004. 

Wednesday's testimony by Lewis and representatives from aid groups appeared to contradict Monday's testimony from officials from four government departments who had a difficult time explaining exactly why developing countries have not been taking advantage of the law and who denied that the bill contained roadblocks. 

In its submission to the committee, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network made a number of recommendations to streamline what it describes as a complex set of rules that act as a deterrent to the developing nations seeking to use the program. 

Among those is one that compels the generic drug company to reveal what country is seeking delivery of the cheaper generic version of the drug. The group wants the generic companies to be able to keep that information confidential to protect the country seeking assistance.

Lewis agreed that was a major problem with the law. 

"No African country I think wants to be the first to go forward if their names are not protected," he said. "There is a tendency to retaliation. Both threats from often the United States and explicit threats from pharmaceutical companies."

Representatives from the NGOs that appeared before the committee also placed a large amount of the blame on brand-name drug companies who they say lobbied effectively to place the roadblocks in the legislation when it was being drafted in 2004. 

Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada, accused the drug companies of bullying developing nations in their own courts and lobbying against them here in Canada.

"We've tied our regimes into so many knots of red tape that our capacity to break through this has been stymied," he told the committee.

"The will of Parliament and the will of Canadians has been thwarted by legislation that is far too timid ... to issues that have nothing to do with humanity, nothing to do with human rights, nothing to do with getting people access to health care and everything to do with protecting privilege and profit."
 
The drug companies will get their opportunity to respond next week when representatives from the brand-name and generic companies appear before the committee. 

: Related Links

> Bureaucrats can't explain why drugs not getting to Africa

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