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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. 

:  Related Links

> Canada's empty pledge to Africa

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