In 2004, the Canadian Parliament voted unanimously to create the Access to Medicines Regime (AMR), which would authorise the export of lower-cost, generic versions of brand-name medicines to eligible developing countries. This came in response to the appalling AIDS incidence in Africa, where roughly 10 million people still do not have access to treatment that is readily available in rich countries.
Unfortunately, formidable bureaucratic procedures have slowed AMR processes to a near halt. However, a new private member's bill, which according to polls has 80% of Canadians' support, could streamline the AMR.
Bill C-393 would create a `one-license solution' that would allow generic medicines manufacturers to export their products, with a single license, to developing countries covered by the current law. This would replace the current system, which requires separate negotiation and licensing for each drug order from every country, and implies all the associated transaction costs.
This would allow Canada to make good on its promise to deliver rapid solutions to countries without the means to access certain drugs.
Big pharmaceuticals and a handful of MPs oppose the bill, but their objections are unwarranted. That prices are a major barrier to access, and that generic competition has successfully lowered prices for some first-line AIDS medicines, is undisputable.
The bill includes safeguards that will prevent exported medicines from being diverted from their intended recipients and being sold illegally.
There is a moral urgency to all this. The fear mongering that critics are engaged in lacks proof and basis.