Africa still awaits Canadian drugs

Africa still awaits Canadian drugsNearly one year after Canada won worldwide praise for its legislation that permits cheap drugs for poor countries, not a single pill has been exported.

Jean Chretien's Pledge to Africa Act, which allows generic drug firms to charge Third World countries the cost of manufacturing plus an unprecedented, low 15 per cent, has been stalled by technicalities, according to government officials. In a Canadian Press report, Tony Parmar of Doctors Without Borders, said he hoped the bill would be a "lifeline" for countries devastated by AIDS, malaria and other treatable diseases. "We're still in a waiting game," Parmar said. "To be honest, there hasn't been a whole lot of interest to use this legislation."

The bill, the first of its kind, followed the World Trade Organization's (WTO) policy permitting generic drug firms to produce cheap versions of patented drugs, provided the products were sold only in poor countries. Canada was supported by champions of international development, such as Bono of the rock band U2 and South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Initially strong backers of the bill, generic drug makers were dismayed with the actual provisions of the bill. And the legislation was scrutinized by brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturers worried about giving an advantage to their competitors. According to press reports, regulations have been delayed because a Senate committee studying the bill discovered a serious flaw - one missed in the Commons. A new" bill was drawn up to fix the flaw, and is expected to be passed soon.

Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, charged: "I think the bill is in danger of becoming a nonentity because it will be lost in the politics of Canada."


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