U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Says Canadian Antiretroviral Drug Initiative Contains ‘Grave Defect’
U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis has said that the Canadian initiative to provide inexpensive antiretroviral drugs and other medicines to developing countries has a "grave defect" that could prevent generic drug companies from negotiating low prices with countries, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports (Chase, Globe and Mail, 2/14). The legislation, which was introduced in the House of Commons in November 2003, would allow the government to amend a World Health Organization list of essential medicines to include other drugs that are patented in Canada. Under the measure, about 50 countries would be eligible to receive generic drugs at a fraction of the prices charged in Canada. The bill also calls for special markings on and packaging for the generic drugs sold as part of the program in order to prevent them from being sold on the black market or reimported into Canada. In addition, the bill has a "right of first refusal" clause that would give a patent-holding drug maker 30 days to determine if it will fulfill contracts with the same terms negotiated by a generic drug maker (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/11/03).
Right of First Refusal 'Compromises' Measure
Lewis said that the right of first refusal clause is a "serious flaw in the bill, and it has to come out; it is important that it comes out, because it does compromise the integrity of the legislation." Critics of the provision say that giving brand-name companies the right of first refusal will "erode the incentive" for generic firms to negotiate to provide drugs to developing countries, according to the Globe and Mail (Globe and Mail, 2/14). Richard Elliott, director of legal research and policy for the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said that the Canadian government will "sabotage this important initiative unless it fixes the bill," adding, "The winners will be the brand-name drug companies. The losers will be poor patients needing medicines" (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network release, 2/12). According to the Globe and Mail, Lewis said that he "still has hope for a compromise," including removing the right of first refusal for drugs to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. An unnamed Canadian government official said that the government does not want to remove the right of first refusal, adding, "We're against anything that would leave the brand names totally out of the equation." The bill was reintroduced in Parliament last week, and hearings on the measure will begin in the next two weeks, the Globe and Mail reports (Globe and Mail, 2/14).