Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be back in the House today and would like to welcome all members back to this first day of the 2011 session.
I am also very pleased to debate this topic again. I spoke to it last in November 2009. Since then there has been considerable work done on Bill C-393, a bill that proposes to amend Canada's access to medicines regime. However, I would like to touch again on the reason this matters.
I was born in South Africa and spent much of my childhood there. I went back in 2002, and visited Soweto and people there knowing full well that 50 per cent of the people in Soweto at that time were infected with the HIV-AIDS virus. That meant that of every child born to an infected mother, one out of two was infected with the AIDS virus, and of every baby born who was infected with the virus, one out of two, or half, would not live past their second birthday. This is also a humanitarian tragedy in Africa.
I visited with a cousin who was a manager in an important industry in South Africa. I asked how the economy was doing, and he said that one of the key challenges was that with the prevalence of AIDS in South Africa, people were being trained to be managers, technicians, professionals, and workers but then leaving and dying early because of the AIDS scourge. Therefore, it is also an economic tragedy in South Africa.
In Africa approximately five million people have access to AIDS treatments comparable to what we have in Canada, but 10 million people in Africa do not. That is why the bill for CAMR was put forward in 2004 by a Liberal government to provide access to such medicines and to enable Canadian companies to export low-cost, generic drug cocktails to help lessen those tragedies.
Although the hope was that there would be a flow of royalties to Canadian companies and a flow of life-giving medication to Africans who required it, that bill just did not work. The legislation was flawed with bureaucratic and institutional barriers that made it unworkable. Essentially, only one contract was signed and implemented under that law. Therefore, Bill C-393 was put forward as a solution to address those problems and make it easier accomplish the objectives of CAMR.
There are members in the House who believe that Bill C-393 is imperfect and does not do enough to address systemic problems in providing access to affordable AIDS medication in Africa. I understand that reasonable people can sometimes disagree on the means to a common end: supporting Canadian businesses and those people in Africa who need medication for AIDS.
To those MPs, I would say that the motion for the one-licence solution that is at the core of the bill must reinstate the latter for Bill C-393 to become meaningful, and that it will help. There have been many credible witnesses before the committee who said that Bill C-393 , while perhaps not being the full solution to AIDS in Africa, would improve access to affordable AIDS medication for people who are dying without it, as well as protecting the interests of the patent owners of those medications. Let us help the Africans and support Bill C-393 and its one-licence solution.
I would like to make a few comments beyond the direct implications of the bill.
Imagine if the 10 million people in Africa currently carrying the HIV-AIDS virus and suffering and dying from AIDS were receiving the drug cocktails that turn this dreadful killer of a disease into a chronic yet manageable one, as we are doing in Canada. Imagine the well-being that would result in Africa and the economic and human implications of doing so.
Another piece that is starting to become clearer is drug cocktails. These medications prevent the transmission of AIDS. This is a very important point and an important underpinning for passing Bill C-393 with the one licence solution intact.
Drug cocktails lower the viral load of an AIDS patient to undetectable levels, which means they do not allow the disease to be transmitted. These cocktails are proving to be an almost 100% prevention mechanism. Treatment equals prevention. With access to these medicines people will no longer suffer the way they do without treatment and transmission of the disease will be prevented. If people who have contracted HIV-AIDS are fully treated, millions of others will be prevented from contracting AIDS each year. It is even more urgent that Canada support making affordable drugs available in Africa.
Unfortunately, the Conservative government is ignoring this prevention aspect of HIV-AIDS treatment. It has provided absolutely no support for pilot projects in Canada. There is a provincially funded pilot project in my province of British Columbia which seeks out AIDS sufferers who are not aware they have contracted the virus, or are incapable of managing their own treatment, so that they can be treated and the transmission of AIDS in Canada can be reduced. Six thousand people a year contract AIDS in Canada unnecessarily. With proper treatment, AIDS would no longer be transferable.
I would urge Conservative MPs to recognize the importance of AIDS medications as being not only treatment but prevention too. I would urge my colleagues to support prevention funding and projects here in Canada and abroad, which is what we are talking about with Bill C-393.
One member referred to Dr. James Orbinski, head of Doctors Without Borders. He has led this organization through some of the worst and most wrenching conflicts in Africa: Somalia, Rwanda and Darfur. Dr. Orbinski received a Nobel Prize on behalf of Doctors Without Borders. He has a great deal of credibility both as a medical professional and as someone who has worked in Africa on this issue. Dr. Orbinski commented that the possible failure of Bill C-393 with its one licence solution reinstated would be as unconscionable as leaving a room full of AIDS patients to die simply because they are poor and African.
Members on all sides of the House have big hearts. We want to see improvements in AIDS treatment in Africa and affordable medicines as part of that. I would urge all members to think about the foundational reasons of the importance that this bill go forward and soon. Lives are at risk every day that we wait.
We cannot let our brothers and sisters in Africa down. We must fix CAMR so these treatments can be provided affordably and soon. Humanity depends on it. I urge all members of Parliament to support Bill C-393 with its one licence solution.