This Saturday, December 1st is World AIDS Day. Now in its 25th year, the day gives people around the world the opportunity to stand up together against an epidemic that has killed nearly 30 million people around the world so far.
At the moment, an estimated 34 million people are living with AIDs, more than two-thirds of them in developing countries where life-saving drugs don’t come cheap.
In Canada, AIDS activists had hoped a private member’s bill sponsored by the New Democrats would give the world’s poorest countries easier access to Canadian generic drugs. But on Wednesday, the Conservative government voted down the bill 148-141, thereby preventing drug companies from making copies of pharmaceuticals, such as life saving antiretrovirals to treat HIV, and shipping them to countries at lower prices.
Bill C-398 was actually an attempt to fix problems in CAMR– a law that was meant to help get lower-cost medicines to people in developing countries. The law was passed in 2004, but it soon got tangled in red tape, and only two shipments of AIDS drugs were ever sent; to Rwanda back in 2007.
So why the opposition to the new legislation? Though international legal experts say it’s not the case, Conservative MPs were adamant the bill would mean violating World Trade Organization rules. Chris Alexander, the parliamentary secretary to the Defence Minister, also said the bill wasn’t the best way to help people suffering from diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, adding that “Canadian pharmaceutical companies have been among the most generous in the world donating $400-million of pharmaceuticals, that are a larger gift than any other nation has made, to countries like Afghanistan. This would have undermined all of that.”
But his words are no consolation to Hélène Laverdière, the New Democrat MP who spearheaded the bill. She said, “There are two types of people who are really losing this evening. First are the people we could have helped with the bill. And I think that the Conservatives have also shown that they were not able to rise above politics to do the right thing.”
Other supporters of the bill echoed Laverdière’s sentiments, accusing the government of engaging its members in rounds of intimidation and misinformation to ensure the bill did not get voted through.
Meanwhile, Canadian HIV/AIDS activists are also reacting with disappointment and outrage. Alex McClelland—spokesperson for AIDS Action Now (AAN) accuses the government for choosing making money over helping the less fortunate, saying, “The Conservative government is in bed with pharmaceutical companies and they want to make sure they keep making big bucks, so they actively countered this bill because they do not want the production of generic medications to help save the lives of people in other countries that need them.”