The Peterborough Examiner, March 10, 2011
By Galen Eagle
Bernice Standen, a Peterborough “granny,” hooted and hollered as Canada set the stage Wednesday to send cheap, lifesaving medicine to Africa.
“Incredible, isn’t it,” she said from her Gilmour St. home. “I am so grateful for all the people who helped make this happen.”
Standen is one of 40 active members that form Grandmothers Together Peterborough, a branch of the larger national group that advocates on behalf of African grandmothers on issues such as human rights and access to affordable medication.
Grandmothers Together have been one of the loudest voices lobbying for the passing of Bill C- 393, a private member’s bill that would allow Canadian drug companies to provide cheaper generic antiretroviral drugs to Africa and developing countries.
On Wednesday, the New Democratic Party, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois came together to force Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime into law.
Canadian generic drug company Apotex Inc. has promised to use the legislation to make children’s anti-AIDS medication.
James Orbinski, the founder of Dignitas International, a medical humanitarian organization, said that could save millions of lives.
With generic drugs, the HIV/AIDS treatments that once cost $10,000 a year could be reduced to $100 a year — and less than that for children, he said.
Orbinski, who headed Medecins Sans Frontieres when the organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, joined AIDS activist Stephen Lewis and Juno Award-winning rapper K’naan at Parliament Hill Wednesday to urge MPs and senators to support the bill.
“The world is watching,” Orbinski said in Ottawa. “This is a test of Canada’s commitment to humanitarianism.”
While some Conservative MPs voted in favour of the bill, Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro was not one of them.
Even with the passing of the patent-breaking bill, NGOs will likely still turn to places such as India for cheaper drugs to supply Africa, Del Mastro said.
“The generic drugs made in Canada are more expensive than generic drugs made elsewhere in the world,” he said.
“I understand the people that support it are very passionate. They have great intent. They want to help people in developing countries and so do I. There is just a disagreement over what the best way to do that is.”
The Access to Medicines Regime was introduced by the former Liberal government as part of a pledge to help Africa’s poor.
But it was so fraught with red tape that, in more than six years of existence, it has been used to send just two batches of one generic drug to Rwanda.
Generic drug firms would have to seek specific licences for each country and each drug and for limited time periods.
The new bill offers a one-licence solution that simplifies the process, allowing generic drug firms to get a single licence to supply a given drug to all developing nations that qualify.
The bill will now go to the Senate. Standen and her grandmothers will begin the lobbying once again.