Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois acknowledges the need for immediate action to ensure that low-cost medications are sent to low-income countries.
As the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has said, the numbers speak for themselves. In 2007, the United Nations estimated that 33 million people were living with HIV/AIDS, including 2.5 million children. More than 8,000 people die every day from HIV/AIDS in the world.
The Bloc Québécois is aware of the different challenges surrounding research and development, of the problem with intellectual property on patents, of the need to pursue scientific research, and of the difficulty in balancing this with accessibility of low-cost medications in low-income countries. The Bloc also recognizes Canada's international obligations regarding the protection of intellectual property and the balance between accessibility and scientific research on this subject. As the Bloc Québécois has said many times, we must have another look at the Patent Act and Canada's access to medicines regime, now that law has been applied and the first medications sent to an African country.
It is more clear than ever that we need to act quickly. We must call together the various stakeholders to determine the advantages and disadvantages of Canada's access to medicines regime, and to come up with ideas to improve the current regime. We have a number of questions about the current effectiveness of this regime and its first application. Did it achieve the goal of bringing medications to the people? What were the relationships between the suppliers of the low-cost medications and the receiving country? Did the country have the necessary infrastructure to help sick people obtain the medication? Did the medication have the desired effect? How did negotiations work between the companies producing name-brand and generic medications?
The Bloc Québécois believes it is important to review Canada's access to medicines regime and the Patent Act, and to conduct in-depth follow-ups on the first application. Only after evaluating each step of the regime will we be able to determine how to improve it.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of sending Bill C-393 to committee. We recognize that there are some provisions in the current regime that are keeping it from working properly. The committee will be able to carry out an in-depth analysis of how this legislation was applied on the ground for the first time.
However, the Bloc Québécois already has several concerns about the details of relaxing the requirements in relation to the current system, namely, expanding the list of countries, eliminating the wait time, Canada's commitments regarding intellectual property and how this bill will affect those commitments, the fact that brand name pharmaceutical companies are losing their oversight on agreements, the balance between intellectual property, the humanitarian aspect of the system, and the commercial aspect, which is more significant in Bill C-393 than in the current system.
Obviously, this bill raises many questions. The Bloc Québécois believes, however, that urgent action is required on this issue and that a study of Bill C-393 would be an excellent forum to begin discussions on potential ways to make the current system more flexible. Bearing in mind that a certain balance must achieved between the commercial and humanitarian aspects, the Bloc Québécois will definitely propose several amendments to this bill.
The World Health Organization, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and UNICEF produced a report in 2008 entitled Towards universal access: Scaling up priority HIV/AIDS interventions in the health sector. That report reveals that access to anti-retroviral treatment for advanced HIV/AIDS improved between 2006 and 2007 in low-income and moderate-income countries. At the end of 2007, nearly 3 million people were being treated, that is, nearly 950,000 more people than in 2006, which is 31% of the 9.7 million people requiring anti-retroviral therapy.
Since 2001, the number of people receiving anti-retroviral therapy has increased 15-fold, from under 200,000 to 3 million, including 2 million people in Africa.
The greatest increase in treatment rates was in sub-Saharan Africa. That seems encouraging, but the fact remains that less than a third of the people who need treatment are receiving it. Some 2.5 million people were infected that same year, while fewer than 1 million new patients began receiving treatment.
There have been other improvements as well. Some 33% of HIV-positive pregnant women in those same countries received antiretroviral medications to prevent transmission of the disease to their child. Only 10% of pregnant women had access to that treatment in 2004. Once again, there has been a substantial improvement, but two-thirds of HIV-positive pregnant women still do not have access to these drugs.
With respect to children, nearly 200,000 of them had access to treatment in 2007, compared to 127,000 in 2006 and 75,000 in 2005. However, less than 5% of children have access to pediatric AIDS treatment, the kind of treatment specially developed for them. Treatment for children can cost up to eight times more than treatment for adults.
Every day, there are nearly 1,800 new cases of HIV infection in children under the age of 15, mainly as a result of mother to child transmission. In addition, every day, 1,400 children under 15 die from AIDS-related illnesses. More than 6,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are infected with HIV. After more than 20 years of effort, less than 10% of pregnant women have access to services to prevent them from transmitting HIV to their newborn. Less than 10% of the children who are orphaned or made vulnerable by AIDS receive public assistance or have access to support services. Less than one-third of young women between 15 and 24 in sub-Saharan Africa really understand how to avoid the disease.
In the fall of 2008, Apotex, a generic drug company, began delivering triple combination anti-AIDS pills to Rwanda, and the contract calls for 21,000 people to be treated over two years. This is the first initiative of its kind in the world. Other countries have laws that allow low-cost drugs to be sent to developing countries, but none has shipped any yet.
According to patent drug companies, authorization to use their products was given very quickly, within two months, which proves the efficiency of the program. In terms of generic drugs, and more specifically Apotex, there are too many restrictions and the effort is not worth it. Apotex has stated that it would not want to repeat the experience in the current conditions.
Let us take a look at the background. At the end of the 1990s, charitable organizations initiated an awareness campaign. Pharmaceutical patents were deemed to be one of the main obstacles to drug access. Developing countries called on the World Trade Organization to relax intellectual property rules. Others considered corruption and insufficient infrastructure, in African countries in particular, to be the main obstacle.
In November 2001, in Doha, WTO members unanimously accepted that pharmaceutical patents were one of the main obstacles to access to drugs. In August 2003, WTO members agreed to allow developed countries to export low-cost drugs to developing countries. On August 30, 2003, WTO members agreed to make legal changes to certain provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights that seemed to prevent poor countries from importing pharmaceuticals.
I am told that I have only one minute remaining and so I will say that the Bloc Québécois supports some of the principles contained in Bill C-393. As I mentioned at the very beginning, we have a number of questions. Therefore, we would like this bill to be sent to a committee for more in-depth study. And, as I mentioned, the Bloc will propose a number of amendments to ensure that the bill will respect not only the industry but above all the charitable organizations that work primarily in Africa in order to ensure that we do all we can to fight AIDS.