Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to talk about Bill C-393. In fact, I am pleased that my friend from Ottawa Centre put his name to the bill and is giving me the opportunity to do just that.
As I listened to the various debaters today, it occurred to me there were some myths that perhaps I might have an opportunity to debunk today. I hope everyone is listening carefully as I do that.
The bill was first introduced almost two years ago in the House. The intention was to address deficiencies and limitations in Canada's access to medicines regime that have rendered it cumbersome and very user-unfriendly.
Parliament can and must deliver on its promise to people in developing countries struggling with the burden of such public health problems as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
I will deal with myth number one. The myth is that Bill C-393 would weaken current safeguards aimed at ensuring medicines are not diverted and illegally resold. Critics of Bill C-393 have previously claimed that it would weaken Canada's medicines regime and the existing measures to prevent the diversion and illegal resale of medicines, or that it would allow substandard medicines to be exported to developing countries. These claims were never accurate. In any event, such objections can no longer stand since the relevant clauses were removed at committee and are no longer part of Bill C-393.
All of the requirements to disclose quantities of a medicine being shipped and to which countries are being preserved. These safeguards were already deemed satisfactory by Parliament when it first created Canada's medicines regime.
Myth number two is that Bill C-393 would remove measures to ensure the quality of medicines being supplied to developing countries. This claim is simply not true. Under Bill C-393 as it now stands, a Health Canada review would continue to be required for all drugs exported.
Myth number three is that the amendments in Bill C-393 would violate Canada's obligations under the World Trade Organization's treaty on intellectual property rights. In detailed analysis, including by some of the world's leading legal experts on the subject, have shown that this is not correct. All countries at the World Trade Organization, including Canada, have repeatedly and explicitly agreed that issuing compulsory licences on patented medicines to facilitate exports of lower priced generic medicines is entirely consistent with World Trade Organization rules.
The next myth is that Bill C-393 and the one licence solution would authorize unfair competition for brand name pharmaceutical companies. We heard my friend from Ottawa Centre and a number of other speakers today mention the one licence solution. The claim makes no sense. The proposed one licence solution would not, as some inaccurately claim, create unfair competition for brand name pharmaceutical companies.
To be clear, nothing in Bill C-393 prevents brand name pharmaceutical companies from competing to supply their patented products to developing countries. Rather, Bill C-393 simply aims to enable competition by generics to supply those eligible countries and preserves the requirement that generic manufacturers pay royalties to patent holding pharmaceutical companies in the event of any compulsory licence being issued.
Bill C-393 is about making workable something already endorsed by Parliament.
Another myth is that Canadian generic manufacturers will not be able to supply medicines at prices that are competitive with generic manufacturers elsewhere. This claim is simplistic and unfounded. The goal is not to get business for Canadian companies. The goal is to get quality medicines at the lowest possible price for as many patients in developing countries as possible. However, it makes no sense to simply assume that Canadian companies cannot compete globally because they already do.
My friend from Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont was talking about the inability of countries to actually deal with the issue and to work with the drugs. That is a another myth that I will debunk.
The barrier to greater access is not the price of medicines but rather widespread poverty and inadequate health systems. The myth is that widespread poverty, inadequate health systems and not enough doctors, clinics, nurses and so on are the barriers to delivering these.
I spent almost six years living in west and southern Africa working for a Canadian aid organization and I can tell the House that there are multiple barriers to accessing medicines in the developing world which vary from country to country and even community to community. However, major progress has been made in increasing access to treatment, including by strengthening health systems. It is simply inaccurate to claim that the quality of health or physical infrastructure in some developing countries presents an insurmountable challenge to delivering affordable medicines.
For example, with determination and innovative approaches, AIDS treatment is being delivered effectively in some of the most resource limited settings imaginable. In just a few years, millions of people have been put on life-saving AIDS drugs in developing countries, thanks to both effective global investments in health systems, for example through the global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and the use of generic medicines purchased at dramatically lower prices.
Every credible organization and expert recognizes the obvious fact that the price of medicines is a key factor affecting access to those medicines and that the price of medicines prevent many patients with HIV or numerous other conditions from accessing life-saving treatments. Prices are higher when medicines are only available from brand name pharmaceutical companies that hold patents on those medicines. Instead of the word patents we could use monopolies if we wish.
Making medicines affordable, strengthening health systems and other initiatives to tackle poverty and improve health in developing countries are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are complementary and all are necessary. All the clinics, doctors and nurses in the world will not be able to help patients if medicines are priced out of reach, and that is the bottom line, and that is why we have this bill before us today.