Canada’s AIDS Drug Bill Sets ‘Poor Precedent for World,’ DATA Executive Director Says in Letter to Prime Minister
Canadian legislation that would allow generic drug manufacturers to provide inexpensive antiretroviral drugs and other medicines to developing countries will establish a "poor precedent for the world" unless the measure is altered to remove provisions that would benefit brand-name drug makers, Jamie Drummond, executive director of the debt, AIDS and trade advocacy group DATA, wrote in a March 10 letter to Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports (Chase, Globe and Mail, 3/12). The legislation, which originally was introduced in the House of Commons in November 2003, would amend the country's patent laws to allow drug makers to manufacture and export generic versions of patented drugs -- including antiretroviral drugs -- to developing countries. 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 to prevent them from being sold on the black market or reimported to Canada. In addition, the bill has a "right of first refusal" clause that would provide 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, 2/27). Drummond said in the letter, "Giving patent holders a 'right of first refusal' or 'equal opportunity' and restricting what products are eligible sets a poor precedent for the world after so much promise from Canada." Drummond added that the bill as written "would undermine the very purpose of the law, which is to get affordable medicines to the 14 million people who die every day from treatable diseases." Irish rock star and DATA founder Bono also sent a letter to Martin stating his concerns about the bill, DATA spokesperson Seth Amgott said. However, the letter is not being made public, according to the Globe and Mail (Globe and Mail, 3/12).
Letter to Members of Parliament
The Global Treatment Access Group, a coalition of organizations aimed at improving drug access for people with HIV/AIDS and other diseases in developing countries, on March 5 sent a letter to all members of the Canadian Parliament expressing its concern with certain parts of the legislation. In particular, the group highlighted its concerns with the right of first refusal clause, the list of medicines, the list of countries and the "exclusion of non-governmental actors as procurers of medicines." The letter said, "Bill C-9 must deliver on Canada's many promises of meaningful assistance to developing countries facing public health problems. It would be a betrayal of those promises if this legislation ended up creating additional barriers to medicine for the poor." The letter asked members of parliament to "raise these concerns in the House of Commons and other fora available to you" (GATG letter, 3/5).