Lewis tells MPs to fix drugs to
[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
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
"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.
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