Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak in support of Bill C-398. As others have said, the bill is an act to amend the Patent Act (drugs for international humanitarian purposes). In summary, the act amends the Patent Act to make it easier for manufacturers and exporters of pharmaceutical products to address public health problems affecting many developing countries and least developed countries, especially those resulting from HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics.
I have to say that I am somewhat shocked by the words of the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Industry, who is clearly signalling that the government will be voting against the bill. I do not want to get away from my comments on the bill and its importance, but there is another serious issue here, which is that Parliament is not allowed to work the way it should. If the government has concerns about this private member's bill, then it could bring forward some sensible amendments that might fix some of the problems.
In the previous vote, I did see some courage coming from the government's Conservative backbenchers for a change. A private member's motion passed tonight. That is unusual. It passed because, for once, some Conservative backbench members decided to stand up against the wishes of cabinet.
I would plead with the Conservative backbench members to look at the bill. Does it need changes to address some of the concerns the parliamentary secretary talked about? I would not say that all of his concerns were wrong because they may not be, but the government has the authority, power, legal advice and drafters to assist in making the bill all that it should be. We are not just talking about widgets here. We are talking about lives in other countries. We are talking about people.
I know the parliamentary secretary meant what he said with respect to his concerns in Africa and other countries. I believe him on that point. However, the fact of the matter is that if this place were working properly, it could fix the bill to accommodate the concerns of government and save some lives in the global community. That is what we should be focusing on, not whether or not it meets this little factor or that one.
I was here with Prime Minister Chrétien when the previous bill passed in an attempt to help Africa. It was the right thing to do. However, there were some problems with the technical and regulatory requirements in terms of moving generic drugs into Africa, and we did not achieve Prime Minister Chrétien's intent and objectives because of those overburdening criteria. However, we can fix this bill to do that.
In simple terms, the purpose of the bill is to improve access to needed medicines in developing countries by allowing generic drug companies to make and export essential drugs to a list of countries. Why is that important? Let me turn to a UNICEF Canada fact sheet, which explains it better than I could: increased access to ARV medicines is required for preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV-AIDS and to treat children who are infected with HIV. These are the facts.
I agree with the parliamentary secretary when he said that some progress has been made. That is true. However, more progress, and rapid progress, needs to be made. We have the ability in the industrialized world, and in Canada, to help out in terms of preventing AIDS, and that is what we ought to be doing.
The facts on mothers is that only 48% of pregnant women receive the most effective regimes for preventing mother-to-child transmission. On infants, only 42% among the estimated 1.49 million infants born to mothers living with HIV received antiretroviral medicine to prevent HIV transmission from their mothers. Children represented 7% of those receiving antiretroviral therapy and 14% of the people who needed it. Of the more than two million children estimated to need antiretroviral therapy, only 23% had access to treatment versus 51% for adults.
The fact sheet goes on to talk about the solution, which is that greater access can be achieved in part by reducing the cost of commodities, such ARV therapy. UNICEF supports this bill and believes it would go some distance to saving lives, which is what is important at the end of the day.
Why, from Canada's perspective, is this bill important? I do not think I can do any better than quote my colleague from Kingston and the Islands when he talked about why it was so important that Canada is one of the main countries that does this. He stated:
Some medicines are expensive and the point of CAMR is to make available to developing countries safe, generic versions of medicines manufactured in Canada and to do it within international rules on trade and on intellectual property rights. It is intended to provide the competitive pressure to reduce the cost barrier to those countries that would never be able to afford the medicine but would greatly benefit from it and where people are in dire need of the medicine. We know that other countries can produce generic drugs but the Canadian product is produced with higher standards in quality control and it will provide competition on that basis.
That spells out why it is important that Canada is a country using, through its authority, its ability to move generic drugs to countries and the people who need it.
In the beginning, I talked about the bill that was introduced in a former Parliament, in 2004, and that some will try to use that as an excuse that there is already a law in place to deal with the problem and ask why the changes in this bill are required. It is quite simple. I, in part, suggested it before. In 2004, Parliament passed a bill, known as the Jean Chrétien Pledge to Africa, that created what is now known as Canada's access to medicines regime, or CAMR. However, evidence has shown that the technical and regulatory matters within the bill have made it less than effective and Bill C-398 would fix those problems.
Canada is part of a global community and we can show the global community that Parliament can act in a responsible way to save lives around the world. If the government, as the parliamentary secretary has said, has concerns, then some amendments should be put forward to address those concerns that industry or whoever may have. We have a responsibility to other citizens around the world.
I urge members on all sides of the House to support this bill and move it forward so we can save lives around the world.