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You fiddle, they die

This Magazine Staff

Ottawa pols care more about working on their seasonal tans than getting AIDS drugs to the global poor, according to the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Jean Chretien’s outgoing humanitarian gesture, the “Pledge to Africa” (now called the Access to Medicines Regime), has amounted to nothing. The law passed three years ago with the alleged aim of getting cheaper HIV drugs in the hands of those who need them in the developing world. Since then, not a single generically manufactured pill has left our borders under the auspices of the regime.
The problem? Red tape. Generic drugmakers are forced to make short-term applications to make finite amounts of a specific drug to a particular country and have to disclose all of these details to the pharma industry, giving it (and the U.S. government and other agencies hostile to generic drug manufacture) ample opportunity to enact punitive sanctions against the country in need. And if a poor nation is not a member of the World Trade Organization, it suffers second-class status and even more bureaucratic barriers, regardless of how many people are desperately ill.

The Legal Network wrote a brief that outlined precisely what needed to be changed to fix the problem, right down to the exact wording of the Regime, and submitted it to Parliament several months ago. What happened? Nothing. According to the network’s Richard Elliott, “We gave Parliament a detailed brief on how to fix the Regime. But instead of passing what amount to straightforward amendments to streamline the law and make it useful, parliamentarians have left Ottawa early to hit the barbecue circuit.”
Maybe while MPs are sitting by the pool, they could do some summer reading. 28, Canadian journalist Stephanie Nolen’s poignant and powerful survey of the deadly devastation wrought by HIV in Africa, might be a good place to start.

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