Mr. Speaker, like its predecessor, Bill C-398 would amend the Patent Act to facilitate the manufacture and export of generic pharmaceuticals to address public health problems afflicting many developing and least developed countries, countries that most urgently need our assistance.
We know that treatment of AIDS prevents transmission. Science says so. Treatment of this terrible disease with antiretroviral medicines can reduce the total virus load in the body in an HIV sufferer to negligible amounts, which means the next step is to get that man or woman the medicine.
Under the current framework, Canada's Access to Medicines Regime, the compulsory licensing process, which is based not only on the specific kind of drug but also specific quantities, is further complicated by making each of those requirements specific to the importing country. Throughout the entire life of the current legislation only one country benefited, Rwanda, leaving the manufacturing company, Apotex, so frustrated that it stated it would not use CAMR again until it was reformed.
Many of the recipients in greatest need cannot wait much longer. Most recent statistics, which date back to 2010, estimate that 34 million people are suffering from HIV-AIDS, 50% are women, 3.4 million are children and 22.5 million sufferers are in sub-Saharan Africa, among some of the world's poorest, least stable countries. Without effective access to medicines enabling treatment, the numbers keep growing. By the end of 2010, HIV-AIDS accounted for 1.8 million deaths that year, deaths that we have come far enough, scientifically and medicinally, to have avoided.
Years ago I witnessed the terrible impact of this disease, while it ravaged the population of Central America. While doing international aid work in Honduras, I was in San Pedro Sula, which had the highest incidence of AIDS across the continent at the time.
Groups in my riding are well aware of the impact too. An incredibly compassionate community, I am pleased that Guelph is home to Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik and the Masai Centre for Local, Regional and Global Health and the “Bracelets of Hope” campaign.
The centre has a really incredible story. In 2003 a young boy named Masai was born to two HIV positive parents, yet through skilful and effective treatment, Masai was born HIV negative, something that would have been nearly impossible had he been born in Africa. Even if he had managed to be born HIV negative, without the proper treatment his parents would likely have joined the growing statistics of AIDS related deaths leaving behind broken families and orphan children.
It is frustratingly simple, really. There is a terrible problem with a workable solution.
The bill before us is substantially the same as the one we passed in March, 2011, but slightly streamlined. Bill C-398 includes the amendment pertaining to the definition of pharmaceutical products, including wording specific to the World Trade Organization General Council's decision of August 2003, reflecting international agreement on eligible drugs. Importantly, it also includes a one licence solution, enabling generic manufacturers to simultaneously sell multiple times to any country listed in schedule 2, cutting down on repetitious and burdensome red tape.
I would like to briefly address four myths about the bill.
The first myth is that the bill would weaken safeguards against the diversion and illegal sale of medicines. In fact, all safeguards currently in CAMR are maintained in the bill, which adds a further requirement for manufacturers to post certain information online that makes the process even more transparent.
The second myth is that the bill would remove measures to ensure the quality of exported medicines. In fact, Health Canada review continues to be required for all drugs exported under CAMR. There is no measure in the bill that would amend the Food and Drugs Act.
The third myth is that the bill would be contrary to Canada's obligations under WTO respecting intellectual property rights. In fact, CAMR and Bill C-398 are the Canadian implementation of agreements reached by all countries at the WTO, including Canada. Leading international legal experts all agree that the one licence solution proposed in Bill C-398 complies with WTO law.
The fourth myth is that like its predecessor the bill would remove the two-year limit on a licence. In fact, this was not carried over to this bill and the limit is not removed.
Also important to remember is that the bill continues the practice that generic manufacturers can only ship certain quantities of drugs. Listed countries must provide a notification of the quantities they need to the WTO. Generic manufacturers are only authorized to provide that notified quantity to those listed countries.
When this bill's predecessor was last before Parliament, I made the appeal that if we did not vote for the bill, we would wake up tomorrow and, as a country, would be no better able to help 7,100 newly-infected people with HIV. Nor would we be in a position to prevent another 7,100 people from becoming infected two days from now.
It is as true now as it was then. The problem has not changed. If anything, it continues to get worse. The solutions are present. It is time we move the bill to committee, make the necessary amendments and start to make a difference in the lives of those who need it most.
I implore all members to support the bill.