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Bill to streamline export of AIDS medication

Stiff opposition cites possible intellectual property violations

A federal private members bill to improve Canada’s ability to export low-cost AIDS medications faces numerous roadblocks as the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to cause millions of deaths annually in Africa.

Bill C-393, which aims to decrease the red tape around Canadian production and exportation of low-cost generic AIDS medications, has reached its third reading in the House of Commons, after being introduced in 2009. After this reading the bill must pass through Senate.

Winnipeg North NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who stepped down in April 2010 to run for mayor of Winnipeg, first introduced the bill. Windsor West NDP MP Brian Masse then took over as sponsor of the bill, but recently handed the bill over to Ottawa Centre NDP MP Paul Dewar.

In an interview with The Daily, Masse said “I’ve handed over the bill to Paul Dewar in response to the criticism that I [already] introduced a private member’s bill over the last year.”

MPs are generally encouraged to only introduce one private members bill a year. The Conservatives finally gave their approval to allowing Dewar to be the bill’s new sponsor yesterday. A new sponsor must be approved by all MPs.

One of the bill’s key clauses was the one-licence system, designed to reduce red tape regulating drug exportation. The one-licence system requires generic companies to have just one license to export drugs to countries specified as being in need of affordable medications without a strict quota on the number of drugs.

Under the current system, companies are required to obtain multiple licenses to export drugs. The House Standing Committee on Industry, Science, and Technology, which includes Liberal critic and Westmount-Ville Marie MP Marc Garneau, removed this clause in December.

In a article, Garneau stated that this approach “would give generic companies too much freedom.”

Rachel Kiddell-Monroe, Pres-ident of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), member of Médecins sans frontières (MSF), and founder of MSF’s Ottawa advocacy office, defended the one- licence clause in an interview with The Daily in December.

“For the developing countries, they would have known that once they received the license they would receive the drug…For the generic companies they know they don’t have to go through years of litigation and negotiations with the pharmaceutical countries,” said Kiddell-Monroe. “It is also a much faster system than the current legislation.”

Other organizations advocating for the passage of Bill C-393 and the one-licence system include the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Stephen Lewis Fund’s Grannies to Grannies Campaign.

The McGill UAEM Chapter has been raising awareness of the bill on campus. Chapter coordinator Rachel La Selva said in an email to The Daily that some of their members “attended rallies in Ottawa…gave announcements to our classes, and [encouraged] people to sign postcards” to their MPs.

According to Masse, “most of the opponents to Bill C-393 have been pharmaceutical companies,” despite the fact that, according to a statement released by the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, “the entire continent of Africa…represents less than two per cent of global pharmaceutical sales” due to developing countries’ inability to afford patented medicines.

Other opponents of the bill criticize it for potentially violating international intellectual property rights. Heather Hume, spokesperson for Industry Minister and Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Tony Clement, said in an email to The Daily that Clement is opposed to bill C-393 because it “would revoke intellectual property rights” outlined in the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). This is 1994 agreement set minimum standards for international intellectual property regulation.

However, Section Four of the WTO’s 2001 Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health also states that, “While reiterating our commitment to the TRIPS Agreement, we affirm that the Agreement can and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO members’ right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all.”