Canadian generic drug prices too high
to help Africa
[PoliticsWatch updated 5:15 p.m., February 28, 2007]
OTTAWA — A
Canadian law designed to ship generic versions of drugs to
developing nations facing epidemics is not working because Canadian
generic drugs are too expensive in comparison to those from China and India
Canada's health minister said Wednesday.
Health Minister Tony Clement's comments are expected
to be a bombshell in the political debate over a 2004 law that has
failed to ship a single pill to developing countries.
"Our generic drug costs are expensive in the world," Clement
said at an event in Ottawa in response to a question from
PoliticsWatch. "So it's no accident that there hasn't been a lot of demand for
Access to Medicines from Canada, quite frankly.
"That's one of the problems with this Act. It's a lot of sound and fury but it signifies nothing. So I think it's absolutely appropriate that we're reviewing this piece of legislation to see whether there are ways we can fix it."
The health minister said that during a January trip to Africa he
asked health ministers in Tanzania and Kenya why they
had not taken advantage of 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.
"Neither of them have heard about it and neither of them thought it would be helpful because they do what governments
do," he explained. "They procure their medicines at the lowest possible costs on the world
market. They procure their medicines from India and China."
Industry Canada is currently in the process of a mandatory review of
the law and has been accepting submissions from industry
stakeholders and aid organizations.
The Commons industry committee recently passed an NDP motion to
conduct an examination of the law and why it has failed to deliver
any drugs to developing countries. Those hearings are expected to be
held in the spring.
Previous to Clement's comments legal wrangling between Canadian
generic and brand-name drug companies has been viewed as a major
source of the problem.
In an interview with PoliticsWatch last summer, Jack Kay, president of generic drug manufacturer
Apotex blamed the previous Liberal government and the bureaucracy for creating hurdles.
In 2005, Apotex was approached by an aid group to deliver an AIDS
drug, but the wrangling has delayed its delivery. Kay said his company will not make
a profit delivering the drug.
Clement said Tuesday one of the problems is that when the law was
created it failed to take into account recent changes in the global pharmaceutical market
"Right now you can procure genericized medicines relating to HIV/AIDS a lot more cheaply on the world market from India and China, not from
Canada," he said.
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