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Atwood, K’naan back affordable medicine for world’s poor [Globe and Mail]

Novelist and rapper support bill to facilitate sale of generic drugs still under patent to developing countries

Globe & Mail, October 29, 2010

By Gloria Galloway

Politicians are arguing whether a flawed federal program to send cut-rate medicine to the world’s poorest countries can and should be fixed, but K’naan has made it clear where he stands.

The Juno-winning rapper, whose song Wavin’ Flag was the anthem for this year’s FIFA World Cup, turned this week to Twitter to urge his followers to get behind an NDP bill that would reform Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR).

“My Canadian followers, do u ever wonder how u might actually help to change the lives of others?” the Somali-born musician tweeted on Wednesday night.

“You see life saving medicines are often too expensive for those who need it most … there is a bill in Canada (Bill C-393) that if passed … will change this greatly. Call your MPs & tell them they MUST get Bill C-393 passed!”

K`naan directed his fans to the website of Dignitas International, a Toronto-based organization fighting the spread of AIDS in developing nations. Dignitas supports the amendments proposed in Bill C-393 that was originally sponsored by Judy Wasylycia-Leis, a former NDP MP.

And K’naan isn’t the only celebrity to get behind the bill. Author Margaret Atwood also used Twitter this week to urge Canadians: “Pls write MPs 2 help developing countries have affordable meds.”

The Access to Medicines Regime was created in 2005 by the Liberal government of Paul Martin. It aims to allow drug manufacturers to sell generic versions of drugs that are still under patent at reduced prices to impoverished areas of the world.

But, in five years, only one company has managed to use the regime to sell just one drug, an AIDS medicine, to a single country.

Many people argue that the regime has been rendered unworkable by the red tape that was written into the original legislation

Ms. Wasylycia-Leis`s bill aimed to fix that. But she left federal politics earlier this year to run, unsuccessfully, for the job of Winnipeg mayor. Now her party is trying to get unanimous approval from the House of Commons to allow one of her former colleagues in the NDP caucus to take over the bill.

That consent is unlikely given that the Conservatives and even some Liberal and Bloc MPs do not support the changes that Bill C-393 would make to the Access to Medicines Regime, arguing that they infringe on intellectual property rights.

Marc Garneau, the Liberal industry critic, successfully introduced amendments to the bill at the Commons Industry Science and Technology committee on Thursday that would limit the number of drugs that could be replicated and sold under the regime.

The committee will debate other amendments on Monday that critics say will gut the bill and leave the regime in its current unworkable form.

Mr. Garneau said everyone agrees that the developing world needs access to medicines to fight diseases like AIDS. But he said he cannot agree with a bill that would give generic companies the “open-ended” ability to duplicate patented medicine.

He also said the problems with the Access to Medicines Regime are not related to how it is structured, but rather to the difficulties posed by bureaucracy and distribution in the countries that would receive the medicine.

James Orbinski, the co-founder of Dignitas, said that is a “specious” argument.

“Right now, CAMR is a rhetorical success and a practical failure. Bill C-393 is an effort to make CAMR a practical success,” he said in a telephone interview. “The opportunity to break through a bottleneck is on the table right here in Canada.”

Dignitas InternationalAtwood, K’naan back affordable medicine for world’s poor [Globe and Mail]