Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank the House for giving me this opportunity today to speak to Bill C-9.
The purpose of this bill is quite clear and simple; the bill amends the Patent Act to facilitate access to pharmaceutical products to address public health problems afflicting many developing and least-developed countries, especially those resulting from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics.
I would like also to indicate that it would be quite appropriate in this discussion to congratulate the member for Algoma—Manitoulin, the chair of the industry committee, for the outstanding work that he has performed in getting this bill through. There were, I am told, over 200 amendments and they were dealt with very thoroughly through hard work and extended hearings. Finally, the bill was reported back to the House for third reading yesterday. It recognizes the dedication of the chair and the members of the committee to this cause. It is only appropriate that we should recognize this because the working committee is seldom publicized and brought to the attention of constituents.
Next, it is desirable to indicate that while the title of the bill reads in a rather cut and dry manner, an amendment to the Patent Act and Food and Drugs Act, which would be very obscure unless it was explained at large, it also carries a subtitle to which other speakers in this debate have already made reference. The subtitle, which is in brackets, and I am very glad to see it, reads “The Jean Chrétien Pledge to Africa”.
I find this most appropriate and desirable considering the tremendous effort that the former prime minister made in advancing the cause at international fora, particularly at the G-8 meetings, to the dramatic and tragic situation of the African continent. He did that on a number of occasions, particularly in Kananaskis in 2002, when the NEPAD policy was launched with the support of the G-7. Africa was put on the political map of those gathered at Kananaskis with complete support, by way of funding, by all the leaders who met on that occasion.
It seems to me, and I take into full account the comments just made by my colleague from the NDP, that perhaps there are many who have advanced the cause of dealing with pandemics in Africa. It is most appropriate that the leadership of the former prime minister be recognized and given appropriate exposure in this legislation and hopefully also beyond Canada's boundaries.
The purpose of the legislation is of course much larger than just the scope of the bill. The legislation intends to be part of a larger government effort intended to provide aid and medicinal assistance to countries in need. It is my understanding that Canada has already committed $100 million to the global fund to fight HIV and AIDS, and in addition to that some $62 million to the Canadian fund for Africa.
Therefore, we can see that the legislation is coming in as a reinforcing element within the framework of a broader policy effort, and it is most appropriate and timely. It is also a demonstration that the global community is taking on a responsibility for a problem that is hundreds of miles away, but nevertheless touches us all because we are all members of a human community that ties us together.
The situation in Africa is desperate. It is important to put on the record some data. It is a fact that there are some 36 million people apparently who are affected by AIDS at the present time. Two-thirds of these 36 million souls live in five countries: Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. In five other African countries, namely, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, one adult out of five who registers positively on tests for AIDS or has already incurred into the AIDS pandemic. This data is from the World Health Organization.
As a result, the average life expectancy in many African countries has been reduced by 23 years. When we are witnessing a trend in the opposite direction, namely longer and longer life expectancies, we have a continent where the life expectancy is going down and being reduced as a result of this pandemic. There are other countries which seem not to be completely exempt from this terrible disease. Reference has been made to the Bahamas, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and to Haiti where it is expected that the average life expectancy is to be reduced by at least three years.
These statistics necessarily are cut and dry, but they hide another very important social reality. That is that as a result of the deaths within a population, there is a dramatic decrease in the number of teachers in the schools, workers in agriculture and in industry, clerical workers, people in the health care sectors, in hospitals, et cetera. Therefore, the fragile and limited structures in these countries are affected by this disease. In other words, there is an impact on numbers and social structures in the countries I mentioned earlier. These are poor countries which lack the resources to remedy the situation, in particular to provide, acquire and purchase the medicines and drugs necessary to stop the spread of this pandemic.
Therefore, we have these initiatives by Canada and other like-minded countries in trying to come to grips with getting to the root of the problem and to prevent the spread of this disease. In this respect we are all very proud of the fact that Canada is in the forefront of this initiative. This is why this bill is so important, why it has received the support of every party and why there is an element of urgency attached to the bill itself.
I would like to continue in my presentation by adding some words on the intervention yesterday by the Minister for International Cooperation. However, since you wish me to recognize the clock, Mr. Speaker, I will yield the floor and perhaps resume my comments after three o'clock.