UN Special Envoy Is Confident Cheaper Drugs Will Get to AIDS-Ravaged Africa
February 25, 2004
A second attempt by Canada's Liberal government to provide cheap AIDS drugs to poor countries will succeed, despite distractions that include a looming election and a federal sponsorship scandal, predicted Stephen Lewis, UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. "There's absolutely no question the legislation will get through," he said following a speech to an international grain and livestock conference in Winnipeg. "I would be quite surprised and deeply, deeply distressed personally if it didn't," Lewis said of the Patent Act and Food and Drugs Act.
Closely patterned after a World Trade Organization initiative, the bill allows poor African countries to import cheap copies of patented drugs currently beyond their financial reach. The bill was reintroduced in the House of Commons on Feb. 12, and the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology has begun hearings.
The bill was first introduced last November, but it essentially died when former Prime Minister Jean Chretien terminated the Commons in preparation for his retirement. Prime Minister Paul Martin has always considered the issue a top priority and cited it in his government's first speech earlier this month. A spokesperson for House Leader Jacques Saada said Tuesday the bill is still expected to pass, despite government preoccupation with a report by the Auditor General into mismanagement of a federal sponsorship program.
Lewis is scheduled to make a presentation to the committee in early March, and he expects debate on certain points, such as concern that low-cost generics could be smuggled back to Europe and North America, undercutting brand-name drugs and rendering patents worthless. Last fall, however, the companies agreed to work with Ottawa to change the laws to improve access to drugs.
02.24.04; Michelle Macafee
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.