Canada: AIDS Drugs Flow After Four-Year Mess
September 23, 2008
Four years after Canada passed legislation intended to speed poor nations' access to cheap generic drugs for AIDS and other deadly diseases, AIDS drugs are finally bound for Rwanda. But the Canadian manufacturer of the drugs, Apotex Inc., says the law complicates the process unnecessarily, and it does not plan to participate again unless the process is streamlined.
On Wednesday, Apotex will send 7 million doses of the triple combination AIDS drug Apo-TriAvir to Rwanda, enough to treat 21,000 patients for a year. A second shipment is due this time next year. But Apotex will then drop out of Canada's Access to Medicines program, which the firm said involved red tape, months of delay, and prolonged negotiations with developing nations and patent holders.
"We could have been seen as the breakthrough Western government," said Canadian Stephen Lewis, the former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. "And all we get out is one batch? This is awful." Lewis said the federal government had allowed patent-holders to "artfully delay things, tie things up in knots, and persuade people they shouldn't do this quickly."
"Somebody needs to decide what the objective of this legislation is," said Bruce Clark, vice president of Apotex's regulatory and medical affairs. "If the objective is to get needed medication into the hands of patients, then it isn't the needs of industry you need to balance, it is of the individuals in need. [The legislation] is so laborious and convoluted it is almost a waste for us to go through the process."
Two years ago, Health Minister Tony Clement pledged to review the program, but activists say nothing came of that.
The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network suggested a one-license process to free generic drug manufacturers from the current process of having to separately negotiate every order from each country. To date, only Rwanda has participated in the program.
09.23.2008; Tanya Talaga
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.