World AIDS Day choice: save lives or protect profits?

New Democrats challenge MPs to pass bill to get low-cost medicines into poorest countries

At a World AIDS Day event today, New Democrat MPs challenged their counterparts from all parties to come together and pass landmark legislation to get low-cost medicines into the world’s poorest countries.

“MPs need to decide—are we going to save lives here or protect brand-name drug profits? Today, more than 16,000 people will die in the developing world from treatable illnesses like TB, malaria and HIV/AIDS. Passing Bill C-393 in its original form will get people the affordable drugs they need,” said New Democrat Industry Critic Brian Masse, the bill’s sponsor.

In 2004, Parliament adopted Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR)—authorizing generic producers to create low-cost versions of brand-name drugs for developing countries. In six years, however, only one drug order has ever been shipped. Bill C-393 fixes CAMR’s fatal flaw with a “one-license solution” that ends the need for separate license negotiations for each drug order.

“Nearly 15 million people living with HIV/AIDS need antiviral drugs today, but barely five million are getting them,” said Health Critic Megan Leslie (Halifax). “Much of the developing world just can’t afford the brand name medicines some of us take for granted. Let’s not let another World AIDS Day slip by without doing our part to get these live-saving drugs into people’s hands.

“The provision of anti-retroviral drugs not only helps improve the lives and health of people living with HIV, but it also is an integral part of preventing the transmission of HIV, because lower viral levels means lower risks of transmission,” said Leslie.

After passing First and Second Reading in the House of Commons, Bill C-393 hit a roadblock at the committee stage. Supported by Liberal Industry Critic Marc Garneau, Conservative MPs amended the bill to eliminate the bill’s one-license solution. This change protects brand-name drug companies’ profits—and means affordable drugs will never ship overseas.

“Instead of listening to drug industry lobbyists, MPs should listen to Canadians and their own hearts. Africa represents just two per cent of brand name drug sales—surely, saving lives matters more than this little dollop of profit. We’re calling on MPs to join together across party lines to pass this bill without these poison amendments,” Masse concluded.

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