WORLD

THE PILLS MEANT TO BATTLE EPIDEMICS NEVER REALLY ARRIVED

COLIN CAMPBELL December 12 2005
WORLD

THE PILLS MEANT TO BATTLE EPIDEMICS NEVER REALLY ARRIVED

COLIN CAMPBELL December 12 2005

THE PILLS MEANT TO BATTLE EPIDEMICS NEVER REALLY ARRIVED

MEANWHILE IN CANADA

COLIN CAMPBELL

Two years ago, when Canada drafted legislation to allow the export of cheap copies of some patented AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis drugs to poorer countries, it was hailed as a noble step forward in the battle against global epidemics. But in the six months since the law has been in force, rather than seeing a flood of exports to the millions in need of inexpensive drugs, Canada has yet to ship a single pill.

The result is the sort of worst-case scenario AIDS groups feared when the bill was first tabled in November 2003. From the beginning, generic drug-makers expressed reservations about the law, which they say is filled with restrictions and barriers favouring brand name makers that make it too risky and costly for them to dabble in patented drugs. “The law makes the process too onerous, lengthy, difficult, convoluted and expensive,” says Jeff Connell, a spokesman for the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association.

Medical aid groups hold out hope that the plan will see Canadian generics being given to patients—maybe by next spring, they say—despite the complications. “It’s bloody slow—but we don’t want to throw it out completely,” says Carol Devine, a program director for Doctors Without Borders, which is currently working with a generic drug company to place what would be the first order under the law. If successful, that shipment would be an important step toward getting things moving, says Richard Elliott, a director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network: “There are concerns that remain, but it’s not clear how they’ll be borne out until we try and use the legislation.”

Most groups involved maintain more could be done if the government would take a more active role in promoting a plan that was unanimously approved by Parliament. The government contends it did its part in pushing forward the legislation, and says its fate now lies in the hands of the private sector and NGOs. “It’s really up to those who were asking for the legal framework to make use of it,” said an Industry Canada official. M

MALTA: 10,111 TURTLEDOVES

In a country where rabbit is the traditional dish, hunting is a national pastime. But the EU bans hunting in the spring—when Maltese like to take aim at quail and turtledoves. Malta says it’s been allowed an exception, but the EU wonders about claims that in May 2004, only 2,128 quail and 10,111 doves were shot in a country with 16,000 registered hunters. Said one spokesman: “If only 10,000 birds are being shot, the Maltese must be really bad shooters.”