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Rwanda will only accept Canadian generics if price is right  Politics Watch News Services
September 26, 2007, updated 6:10 p.m.

Canada's Access to Medicines Regime has failed to deliver a single pill to a developing nation since it was created in 2004 . 

OTTAWA  —  The effectiveness of Canada's Access to Medicines Regime to deliver drugs to developing countries is again being put the test, PoliticsWatch has learned.

The Federal Commissioner of Patents last week issued Apotex a compulsory licence for ApoTriavir under Canada's Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR). 

However, before Apotex can deliver the drugs to Rwanda, it requires approval from Rwanda and must win a competitive tender in December that is open to bids from other generic drug manufacturers from around the world. 

In August, Rwanda's Health State Minister for Aids and other Pandemics, Dr. Innocent Nyaruhirira, was quoted in the Kigali New Times as saying, 
"We have never had any trade deal with that Canadian company (Apotex), except the promise it made to us that it will produce that medicine at low-cost."

He said importation will be "determined by the cost of drugs" from the producer and there was no guarantee Apotex would win the bid. 

"If there happens to be any other country that produces such drugs with same quality at a cheap price, we will import them from there."

Apotex officials told the House of Commons industry committee in the spring that it planned to sell the drug at cost at 39 cents per pill. 

According to Médecins Sans Frontières, the same medicines that Apotex proposes to sell Rwanda is already being sold by five other companies from India at prices ranging from 26 cents to 31 cents per pill. 

"We have not started to manufacture the product yet," Elie Betito, director of public and government affairs for Apotex, confirmed to  PoliticsWatch. 

"The next step is an official tender that has to be done by Rwanda in December. Maybe others will compete with us, but we feel that our pricing will be as competitive as anyone producing." 

In February, Health Minister Tony Clement blamed the CAMR program's failure on the high cost of Canada's generic drug prices. "It's no accident that there hasn't been a lot of demand for Access to Medicines from Canada, quite frankly," he said. 

Professor Amir Attaran, Canada Research Chair at Ottawa University, who is a critic of the CAMR program, told PoliticsWatch Canadian companies should not be trying to sell drugs to developing countries when similar products from countries such as India "are clearly less expensive." 

"If Canada is really going to contribute to solving this problem, at the very least it should be done in such a way that we are not charging a very poor country where people live largely on a dollar or two dollars a day more than they might buy their medicine from elsewhere," Attaran said. 

Last week's decision to grant Apotex a licence was seen as a breakthrough for the CAMR program. 

The program was created to allow generic drug companies to sell copies of patented drugs to developing nations. The program has been under fire since its creation as it's failed to deliver a single pill to a developing country since implementation in 2004. 

In an interview with PoliticsWatch, NDP MP Brian Masse, who sits on the Commons industry committee, said granting of the licence doesn't change the concerns he has with the program. 

"It doesn't take away from some of the systemic problems we still have with the bill," he said. "The real issue here is whether or not we're going to have a system that will meet the goals of what Canada wanted and I still think there's going to be problems in the system to do that." 

Masse listed the problems as recipient countries being required to identify themselves, the small number of drugs that are eligible for the program and how CIDA and Health Canada's promote the program in the developing world. 

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