Fix the Bill C-9 on patent law

Don’t Let Big Pharma Hijack "Jean Chrétien’s Pledge to Africa"

Thursday 4 March 2004

Canadian people must speak out to sway legislative opinion about the bill. As the bill goes to a Parliamentary Subcommittee for debate and changes, Canadians have a unique opportunity to show their lawmakers how they really feel about this bill.

1/3 of the global population (2 billion people) lack access to essential medicines

As a result: Each year 1 million people die of Malaria. Each day 8,000 people die of AIDS. Each minute 4 people die of TB. Meanwhile, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and asthma are on the rise: diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in South Africa and many other parts of the developing world.

In Africa, only 1% of people with HIV get ARVs (antiretroviral drugs).

Why are people who need medicines not getting them? Because many people in the developing world cannot afford patented medicines. Brand name pharmaceutical manufacturers hold patents on many of these critically needed drugs. Patents prevent other companies from making and selling these lifesaving medications. Patent-holding companies can charge any price they want for their medicines because they’re the only ones allowed to sell them. They set the prices of their drugs far higher than any of the impoverished sick in the developing world can afford. These companies are literally denying medicines to the people that need them most just so that they can make a greater profit. Generic pharmaceutical producers have the capacity to make these drugs for a fraction of the cost dictated by patent-holders but are prevented from doing so by the patent protection. Let’s get these more affordable medicines to the people who need them NOW!

So what can Canada do?

Canada’s domestic patent laws prevent generic drug companies from making patented medications at lower costs and selling them at lower prices. Canada can amend its domestic patent law to allow generic production of medications for export to the developing world. This would be a groundbreaking step, making Canada the first developed world country to send affordable medicines to the countries that need them most. This legislation would allow a Canadian generic company to make a contract with a developing world government to supply them a badly needed patented medicine. This would set a global humanitarian precedent.

Bill C-9: Canada’s Attempt to Export Affordable Medicines

Don’t let Big Pharma Hijack "Jean Chrétien’s Pledge to Africa":

#1) Drop the Right of First Refusal

As it stands, brand-name companies are allowed to take over contracts for medicines negotiated between Canadian generic producers and developing world governments. So a generic company negotiates the contract for a given medicine, but the company that holds the patent on the drug can take over the contract within the 1st 30 days of its signing and then every 2 years upon renewal. Why would any generic company even bother with negotiating these much needed supply lines only to have them taken over by patent-holders? The point of the legislation is to encourage generic participation in the market so that drug prices will be driven down, not to dissuade them from even pursuing contract negotiations.

#2) Get Rid of Schedule 1

This bill contains a limited list of specific medicines that are allowed to be produced generically for export to the developing world. Why should the Canadian government dictate which medicines are required by the poor? No one should be denied treatment because they happen to be suffering from the "wrong" illness, i.e. an illness that’s treatable by a drug not on Schedule 1. The developing world is confronting a double burden when it comes to health. Marginalized social groups are afflicted both by communicable diseases (like TB, Malaria, and HIV/AIDS) and by non-communicable disease (such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and asthma). We’ve exported the "fast-food nation" and Joe Camel; the least we can do is export the drugs to treat their attendant afflictions.

#3) Get Rid of Schedule 2

Bill C-9 restricts the export of generic pharmaceuticals to certain countries. Only the poorest of the poor - "Least Developed Countries" - are eligible to benefit from changes to Canada’s patent act. However, slightly-less-than-catastrophic "Less Developed Countries" are only entitled to import cheaper Canadian generic drugs if they are members of the WTO. Numerous countries with grave public health needs are neglected by this list, including East Timor, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. Given the appalling impact of economic globalization on public health, Canadian legislation should reflect Canadian values of public health rather than forcing countries to join the WTO as a stipulation to importing Canadian generic medicine.

#4) Allow NGOs to benefit from changes to the law

As it stands, only government and "agents of the government" are eligible to benefit from changes to Canada’s patent law. Non-governmental organizations like Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) will be unable to purchase directly from Canadian generic producers. With the history of imposed structural adjustment and curtailed social spending, NGOs are sometimes the only agencies able to provide healthcare, and this stipulation adds unnecessary bureaucratic hoops to their activities. In some regions of the developing world, there is no effective government of which to be an agent or the government is engaging in outright repression. Local realities must be taken into account.

What WE can do!

Respected Canadian leaders like Stephen Lewis and health groups like Medecines Sans Frontieres have said that the bill MUST be changed in order to be effective.

Now the Canadian PEOPLE must speak out to sway legislative opinion about the bill. As the bill goes to a Parliamentary Subcommittee for debate and changes, Canadians have a unique opportunity to show their lawmakers how they really feel about this bill. We must seize this moment and express our fundamental Canadian principle of Health as a Human right for all, no matter where in the world they happend to be...

MOBILIZE!

A broad-based coalition of community groups, civil society groups, and student organizations are planning a large public rally in favor of changes to the legislation.

Come, stand up and be counted among canadians who find a common cause with the developing world. the nationwide rally is on march 12.

Contact us to learn more or help plan:

- Shreyas Roy: shreyas.roy@mail.mcgill.ca or 845-6039
- Justin Noble: j@nine05.com


This communiqué was released by the McGill International Health Initiative.

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