The global AIDS epidemic is one of the greatest threats to security and development in the world. Millions of people in developing countries are dying of AIDS, TB and malaria – while the first world sits idly by. High prices of medicines, protected from competition by patent law, make it impossible for poor people to protect themselves against illness and death.
For these reasons, South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and AIDS Law Project (ALP) welcome the decision by the Government of Canada to amend patent legislation to allow for the export of generic pharmaceuticals to countries in need of more affordable medicines. As organisations that have actively participated in the campaign for access to treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS, the TAC and ALP recognise the symbolic and practical significance of Canada’s commitment to global public health. We strongly believe that if properly implemented, this brave step will make a significant contribution towards ensuring a sustainable supply of affordable essential medicines in the developing world.
With the introduction in Parliament of Bill C-9 (An Act to amend the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act), Canada has taken an important step toward improving access to medicines globally. It is the first country to follow through on a recent World Trade Organization (WTO) decision, in August 2003, that relaxed restrictive patent rules. That decision lets WTO members issue compulsory licences that would allow generic companies to produce cheaper copies of expensive patented medicines and export them to countries that lack sufficient capacity to produce their own – as is the case with many developing countries. This would enable developing countries to make effective use of compulsory licensing to import needed medicines at much lower prices.