The Canadian government has been given the opportunity to prevent thousands of deaths attributed to treatable diseases. Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR), formerly known as Jean Chretien’s Pledge to Africa, is legislation established in 2004 by the Canadian government that allows Canadian pharmaceutical companies to produce and export patent-protected pharmaceutical products for humanitarian purposes. Unfortunately, under its current shape and form, CAMR has not been able to live up to its reputation of progressive and effective legislation. It has only been utilized once by Apotex Pharmaceuticals, a Canadian generic pharmaceutical company, whom has promised to never use the legislation again unless reform is seen.

Bill C-393 is the solution to flawed CAMR. Bill C-393 calls for a focus on objectives of making affordable life-saving drugs accessible to people in developing countries. Polls have shown that the bill is supported by over 80 per cent of the Canadian population, which has been instrumental to its passing in the House of Commons. The fate of Bill C-393 now lies in the hands of the Canadian Senate, which is being urged by civil society groups to act fast in passing Bill C-393 due to fears of a possible upcoming federal election that would forfeit the bill. CAMR has the potential to make the difference between life and death for millions of people, and as such should be treated as a democratic issue calling for quick action.

CAMR’s reform will promote progressive movement and call for action from both generic drug providers and developing countries to engage in utilizing CAMR. Apotex, Canada’s largest generic pharmaceutical company and a top contributor to pharmaceutical research, has committed to “work alongside NGOs and Health Canada to develop and deliver a generic fixed-dose anti-retroviral medication for treating children with HIV.” Apotex produced the first and only shipment of medicines licensed under CAMR in 2008 and 2009, supplying Rwanda with a combination AIDS drug. This occurred only after an initial agreement with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) was abandoned. The process was simply too time consuming and costly for Apotex.

The lack of delivery of generic medicines through the use of CAMR supports the obvious necessity of reform through Bill C-393. Proposed fixes to CAMR include the introduction of a “one-license solution” clause. Currently, generic drug companies like Apotex, can only apply for one license per country, which means utilizing CAMR can be a burdensome process. CAMR’s reform would create flexibility in the roles of all parties involved. This therefore facilitates the end goal of providing life saving medicines to those in need.

The urgency exists not only in the Canadian government but in the developing nations where millions of people continue to live without access to medicines needed to survive. While the passing of the bill in the House of Commons is a step forward, the act of reform is essential to achieving CAMR’s goals and requires senate cooperation. Lack of Conservative Party support for the bill in the House of Commons could echo in Senate, where Conservative Senators hold a majority of the seats. With concerns growing over the efficiency of foreign aid dollars, CAMR would allow the purchase of expensive patent protected medicines at a fraction of the cost, meaning better bang for Canadian tax payer buck.

Heather Palis and Andreas Pilarinos are students at Simon Fraser University involved with Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, an international non-profit student organization that focuses on access to essential medicines. Heather is completing a B.A. in Communications with a minor in Sociology, and Andreas is completing a B.Sc. in Infectious Diseases.