moved that Bill C-393, An Act to amend the Patent Act (drugs for international humanitarian purposes) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a real privilege for me today to begin to speak to a bill that has been the product of so many hours of work by community activists and NGOs right across this country and around world. I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-393, which is an act to amend the Patent Act and to ensure that we can flow drugs for international humanitarian purposes.
Our day to day work in this place clearly impacts upon every aspect of Canadian lives, but rarely are we, as members of Parliament, presented with so clear and direct an opportunity to save lives. We know that 14,000 people a day die from infectious disease, such as HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and that these deaths are preventable because they can be treated with medicines that are on the market today. The dimensions of this crisis are almost impossible to comprehend, with the personal cost to victims' health, the cost to their families, the plight of those left as orphans, and the strain on grandparents thrust into the role of providers.
There are 33.2 million people living with HIV worldwide, 22.5 million, or 68%, live in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2007, 2.1 million adults and children died of AIDS, and 76% of them, or 1.6 million, were in sub-Saharan Africa alone. An estimated 2.1 million children under 15 were living with HIV worldwide in that same year, and again, nearly 90% were in sub-Saharan Africa. Some 13 million children have been orphaned by HIV-AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, and it is now estimated that by the year 2010, as many as 20 million children will have been orphaned by AIDS worldwide.
Finally, without treatment, an estimated one-third of infants infected with HIV will die before reaching the age of one. Half will die before the age of two.
Tuberculosis patients and malaria sufferers are also losing their lives for lack of available medicines, medicines that are on the market today. Five thousand people die from tuberculosis every day, while more than one million people die each year from severe malaria, a disease relatively easy to treat with proper drugs.
This is mind-boggling when we think about it. It is a crisis that no Canadian wants to turn his or her back on. Everyone in this country wants to see Canada do its job and carry out its responsibilities on such a serious life and death situation.
Canadians were very proud when Parliament took action quickly five years ago, following the landmark decision by the World Trade Organization in 2003. It allowed more prosperous nations, like Canada, to offer humanitarian medical support to developing nations.
Canadians were very proud when Parliament unanimously passed reforms to the Patent Act in 2004, called Canada's Access to Medicines Regime, otherwise known as CAMR. That regime was created to provide a framework to use a system of compulsory licensing to allow generic drug companies to produce cheaper versions of the latest most effective drugs to treat infectious diseases even though they were still under patent.
However, we all became disillusioned. Canadians right across this country were very disappointed when we actually came to realize that this medicines regime produced practically no results.
Since that time, four years ago, when we passed the legislation unanimously in the House, there has been only one compulsory licence completed under that legislation. Last September, the first and only shipment went out. It was a shipment of 7 million Apo-TriAvir tablets, shipped to Rwanda by Apotex, Canada's largest generic drug manufacturer. That was an important shipment. It will help 21,000 people. However, given the statistics I just mentioned, it is a drop in the bucket. That has been the only shipment.
There is obviously something wrong with the legislation. I am here today to try to fix it. The burden of drug costs for the world's lowest-income nations has intensified. Despite the efforts of those like my former colleague, the hon. Alexa McDonough, Canada and other prosperous nations are shamefully not on track to meet our commitments to the United Nations millennium development goals, such as reaching 0.7% of GNP in international assistance by the year 2015, increasing our efforts toward the global fund, reducing child and maternal death, and reducing HIV-AIDS.
Other G8 commitments to reduce poverty have not lived up to their hype. As a final blow, the world is now in the midst of an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions. Within their own borders, the devastating loss of large numbers of productive adults to infectious disease has further compounded the already difficult road to economic security and stability. Countries are obviously even less able to cope with high drug costs for their citizens. I am sure that members of Parliament realize that Canadians will not tolerate us carrying on with a dysfunctional drug system that keeps cheaper drugs from getting to where they are needed.
Former UN special envoy for HIV-AIDS in Africa and respected Canadian Stephen Lewis has been at this for years, tirelessly. He has never given up trying to reduce the incidents of HIV-AIDS in Africa and elsewhere, and has never stopped pushing and prodding us to find solutions. He, like all of us, is concerned about the inaction under the legislation we passed five years ago. He said:
Delaying action is inexcusable when the path forward is so clear: streamline CAMR, get affordable medicines to those who are dying for them, save thousands of lives, particularly those of children with HIV. Every day counts,
Stephen Lewis is right. Every day counts. Canadian generic drug maker Apotex has made a priority of clearing up the mess. It has committed to making a low-cost version of an important pediatric AIDS medication as soon as this access to medicines regime is made workable. I want to remind members that, in sub-Saharan Africa, half of all the children born with HIV died before reaching their second birthday.
This type of drug, which is so needed, is not currently being made. If we could only change the rules, it would happen and it would improve the treatment of these children tremendously. Peggy Edwards, co-chair of the national advocacy committee of the grandmothers to grandmothers campaign, echoes the call for CAMR reform. She says:
Right now, African grandmothers are carrying the burden of caring for children orphaned by AIDS and dying of AIDS without appropriate medicines. Streamlining CAMR and getting affordable medicines to children with HIV would ease that burden considerably.
That is very well said. Let me also quote Richard Elliott, who is the executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. I should mention that his organization has studied this process more than anyone and knows it inside and out. He says:
The current system just doesn’t work...The need is enormous, but CAMR just isn’t user-friendly in its current form.
That is why, in Bill C-393, I have drawn on the legal network's expertise and that of others knowledgeable of the strengths and weaknesses of the current CAMR system to come up with a workable proposal for change. It is a proposal that will get these drugs into production and to the children and adults who have been waiting for them for far too long.
Bill C-393 proposes critical changes to Canada's access to medicines regime. Let me mention a few of them.
It provides for a one licence system to replace the need for single applications for every drug, for every amount of drug produced, and for every country which is seeking medications. That is important.
It gets rid of the narrow list of eligible drugs in order that new medicines can be incorporated at the earliest possible time.
It gets rid of the two-year time limit on compulsory licences with only one reapplication allowed.
It lives up to our international trade agreements while dumping the CAMR's requirements that exceed WTO demands.
Finally, it discourages unnecessary legal action by allowing generic producers to correct minor errors within a limited time.
The reforms we are proposing today in the bill have been supported by many, including 37 humanitarian and health organizations in Canada. They have said so in their submissions to government. That we are here today aware of the problems with CAMR and with solutions to offer to resolve these problems is due to the ongoing effort of so many individuals and organizations.
I want to particularly thank the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Results Canada, Stephen Lewis Foundation and Oxfam Canada. I would particularly like to mention the incredible work of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign that now has more than 200 groups spread across Canada working tirelessly to raise awareness and rally support for these grandparents struggling for their own and their families' survival in sub-Saharan Africa in the wake of their children's premature deaths from HIV-AIDS. In Winnipeg, the group is named Grands 'n' More Winnipeg and I have been helped by discussions and information from Linda Watson, Irene Rempel, Enid Butler, Nancy Cosway and Shelley Coombes.
This spring, the grandmothers, as they have become known around this place, and I am wearing the pin that they have given to us all, brought petitions with more than 32,000 signatures to Parliament. We all had the privilege of presenting some of those petitions.
I want to cite the work of a present colleague of mine who formerly worked on this issue. The member for Windsor West was active on this file when Parliament first passed this bill a number of years ago.
In presenting the bill, I feel a great sense of responsibility. Normally, I have had the responsibility in this place to speak for my constituents in Winnipeg North. That responsibility is daunting in itself.
Today, I am speaking to this bill for millions of women, men and children who have a right to health, a right to life, just as we do, but who through circumstances of birth find themselves faced with serious conditions and diseases in countries unable to afford them the help they and their families need because of economic limitations.
As I have said, the challenges are unimaginable, but the spirit of the struggle is strong. We have a choice today, whether to break down a barrier that is denying them a future or to stay with the status quo and extinguish that spirit. I urge members to choose the former.