Canada's Generic AIDS Drugs for Developing World Fought

Activists suspect backroom pressure from USTR and drug companies, as Canada considers unnecessarily restricting the range of generic drugs to be exported to poor countries.

Health GAP, October 17, 2003
Brook K. Baker 617-373-3217

(Ottawa) Canadian legislators have announced their intention to limit Canada's widely-touted amendment to its patent law to permit export of generic medicines for only three "emergency" diseases, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. In doing so, unnamed Canadian officials have cited an alleged lack of a global consensus on the diseases for which generic production and export might be permitted.

"In August, the U.S. lost its extended fight in the WTO to limit the scope of disease for which poor countries are able to import generic medicines," said Sharonann Lynch of Health GAP. "But this has not stopped the bullying tactics of the U.S. Trade Representative and PhRMA to push countries into accepting these same counterproductive restrictions. They do so in blatant disregard of Doha Declaration of November 2001, which prioritized public health over profits and which guaranteed 'access to medicines for all'."

In December of 2002, the U.S. was the only WTO member that blocked an imminent agreement on finalizing a system for lawfully producing generic medicines and for exporting them to developing countries that lacked capacity to efficiently manufacture medicines internally. The U.S.'s insistence that the agreement be limited to AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other infectious epidemics of comparable severity and scope was the sole issue that blocked consensus and that derailed a timely resolution.

Opposition to the disease limitation poured in from the World Health Organization, developing countries, and public health activists all of whom questioned why poor countries should have access to affordable medicines for a limited number of maladies while rich developed countries had potential access to the entire panoply of pharmaceutical products for all diseases.

Over the summer, U.S. opposition softened and the drug companies allegedly agreed to expanded disease coverage in exchange for enhanced safeguards against diversion of generic medicines to rich markets in the U.S. and in Europe. Accordingly, on August 30 of this year, to great fanfare, the WTO announced consensus and final agreement on the scope of disease issue and dropped all limitations the ability of developing countries to o seek affordable medicines from a foreign generic producer for any disease whatsoever.

"The world reached a consensus on August 30, and the consensus was no disease limitations," said Brook K. Baker, also of Health GAP. "Canada's reference to the lack of consensus can only refer to behind-the-scenes pressure from the U.S. and from major drug companies to artificially limit the Agreement to three headline diseases. Despite gaining praise for their pre-Cancun compromise, the U.S. and PhRMA persist in seeking disease limitations through veiled means. This pressure shows murderous bad faith and threatens to totally eviscerate the Doha Declaration," Baker continued.

"For the Canada to bow to U.S. pressure sets a dangerous precedent for every other country that might choose to allow exportation of generics to developing countries," said Asia Russell of Health GAP. "If a big country like Canada gives in to or colludes in the U.S. bullying, how can we expect weaker countries to permit export of a full range of medical products?" continued Russell. "Canada has an obligation to do the right thing and the U.S. should be ashamed for its insidious insistence on obstructing treatment for the broadest possible range of public health needs," said Russell.

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