There is no good reason not to support a bill that would make it easier for generic-drug companies to sell cheap, life-saving medication to people in poor countries who suffer from AIDS, malaria and TB.
That may be why even brand-name pharmaceutical companies are unopposed to Bill C-398. This private member’s bill, sponsored by Quebec NDP MP Hélène Laverdière, goes to second reading on Wednesday; it is the same as one that was passed by the House of Commons in the final days of the previous Harper minority government in 2011 (supported by 26 Conservative MPs as well as the opposition) but died in the Senate when a spring election was called.
The current Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) is so flawed it has been used just once in its eight-year existence. The legislation frontloads too many unnecessary preconditions, requiring generics to identify a specific country and quantity of a medicine before it can even apply for a licence to sell it. The new bill would remove these bureaucratic obstacles. Apotex Inc., a generic manufacturer, notes it would make it far “more workable and attractive” for generics. Canada’s Research-based Pharmaceutical Companies (Rx&D) also do not object, as long as their request for transparency, flexibility as to the quantity of drugs sent overseas, and other issues are addressed.
However, the Conservative government continues to oppose the bill over concerns it would violate Canada’s international patent obligations under the World Trade Organization. This argument is not substantiated. The bill’s proponents say it does respect WTO parameters and that legal experts have testified to Parliament to this effect. Pharmaceuticals will receive royalties on sales of any generics under the bill. “Currently, half of all infants born with HIV in the developing world won’t live to celebrate their second birthdays, because they cannot afford to buy the medicine,” notes Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “Our government can change this.”
The bill seems like a win-win. Neither the government nor taxpayers will have to pay a cent. The NDP, Green Party, Bloc Québécois, Liberals and even some Conservative MPs support the reform. Industry can live with it. The government should change its mind.