Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from the NDP for his passion on this issue, for his interest in picking this bill up. I thank all hon. colleagues in the House, regardless of how they feel about this legislation, for voting unanimously to allow the member to pick up the bill so we could continue this important debate.
Bill C-393 is drafted to deal with the many challenges associated with access to medicines in the developing world.
Before I begin, I commend the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign for their continued perseverance to keep this issue at the top of public debate. Although we may not agree on the legislation, I share with the grandmothers a commitment to bringing real and meaningful improvements to the health issues plaguing the people of the developing world, especially those who are most vulnerable, children and mothers.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology recently completed an extensive review of Bill C-393. The committee heard that Canada's Access to Medicines Regime, in its current form, enabled Canada to deliver two shipments of approximately 15 million tablets of an HIV-AIDS drug to Rwanda in 2008 and 2009.
This makes Canada the only country to have successfully exported generic versions of patented drugs to a developing country using a system like Canada's access to Medicines Regime, a significant achievement to be sure.
The committee also heard testimony that made the following point very clear. African countries depend on medicines from countries such as India, not Canada as some have suggested. The rationale is basic economics: they cost less. They cost less to produce and ship and systems are already in place that see millions of generic copies of patented drugs shipped from countries like India to the developing world.
This is why our government's primary effort to combat the shortage of drugs in the developing world has been focused on direct support to NGOs in Africa or to the global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Supporting these worthwhile initiatives is the most effective means to help those in need.
However, that is not all that our government has done. In budget 2010 the government reaffirmed its commitment to double international assistance, bringing Canada's total international assistance to approximately $5 billion
. Working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, our government is at the forefront of the effort to develop an HIV vaccine, possibly one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of our time.
The committee heard from Dr. Frank Plummer, a world-leading HIV-AIDS researcher and specialist in infectious diseases, who said that to address this issue “we need multiple mechanisms, and the Government of Canada is doing that”.
We will continue to do just that by focusing our efforts on worthwhile results-based initiatives worldwide. Our government's concerns with Bill C-393's proposal to water down Canadian patent laws are shared by members of the opposition, too.
To quote the Liberal member of Parliament for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, I would note the following. He says:
Patents are not an obstacle to accessing medicines in developing countries. In the words of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, the debate about changing patent rules for drugs is a "red herring.
The notion that patent laws stand in the way of shipping drugs to Africa is simply false.
At the conclusion of the review by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, committee members voted to substantially amend Bill C-393.
These amendments were considered necessary by some members of the committee to ensure that the bill would both respect Canada's international trade obligations and maintain the integrity of Canada's framework for encouraging innovation and access to medicines for Canadians.
However, I still have reservations with the amended Bill C-393, which is why I cannot support it. In particular, I am concerned that, unlike the existing Access to Medicines Regime, the amended Bill C-393 does not include sufficient safeguards to ensure that drugs authorized for export are used for humanitarian purposes only and cannot be sold on the black market.
As well, the amended Bill C-393 does not have the necessary components to respect Canada's international trade obligations.
I, and I am sure other hon. members as well, am committed to improving the poor health conditions of people living in the developing world. In my opinion, the most effective way to do this is to improve the basic health infrastructure in the developing world. Low-income countries lack the trained medical staff, access to clean water, accurate diagnostic equipment, and reliable power that are crucial to improving health outcomes.
Canada needs to help these countries by continuing to support funds that assist countries to procure essential medicines, by providing technical assistance to help those countries navigate the drug procurement process and by helping to train qualified health professionals. All of this is in an effort to ensure that the primary health care needs of the world's most vulnerable citizens are being met. We need to focus on what works.
We heard before the committee that in 2003, 400,000 Africans were being treated for HIV-AIDS. In 2010, that 400,000 will grow to 5.2 million people. We need to continue to focus on what makes a difference in the lives of those people.
The testimony provided to the committee was essential to getting to the heart of Bill C-393 and its well-intentioned but flawed reform of Canada's Access to Medicines Regime. Access to health care in developing countries is a multifaceted issue. Neither Canada's Access to Medicines Regime nor the changes proposed by the bill currently before us will provide the additional health care professionals, infrastructure and other tools necessary to effectively administer life-saving drugs in Africa.
As our colleague, the member of Parliament for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, so succinctly stated recently:
Changing [Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime] will have no effect on the ability of [Low Income Countries] to acquire medicines and medical supplies that are beyond their means to purchase or administer in the first place.
Bill C-393 is not the answer to solving the access to medicines issue. It is for this reason that I urge members to not support Bill C-393.