March 21, 2011
A home-based care worker prays for a man living with AIDS in Malawi, in this 2009 photo.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL JEFFERY

A home-based care worker prays for a man living with AIDS in Malawi, in this 2009 photo.

DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

OTTAWA — Supporters of the New Democratic Party's Medicine for All bill hope the bill can pass the Senate before a possible spring election.

"This is one of those rare moments of life, where you have a precious window of opportunity, you either open it or you don't," said Dr. James Orbinski, founder of Dignitas International and a public health professor at the University of Toronto. "Let's make it happen."

The window of opportunity may be very small. The government will table the budget on March 22. If opposition parties do not support it, or support a non-confidence motion before the budget vote, the government falls and the bill dies.

"It would be very disappointing if the bill were killed and we had to begin again," said Orbinski. "If it is killed, we will begin again."

Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs will shepherd Bill C-393 through the Senate. It had been guided through the House by NDP MP Paul Dewar.

"This bill is an important component of our Aid to Africa initiative," Carstairs said in an email. "Drugs are essential to those suffering from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and C-393 is a means by which we can facilitate the production and sale of these life-saving drugs at a reasonable cost."

SLOW MOVING

"People are dying because we are not moving fast enough," said Richard Elliott, executive director of The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

The bill's supporters have set up a website to advance their cause. According to www.letdemocracywin.ca, the success of Bill C-393, which passed the House March 9, showed, "Logic and evidence prevailed over misinformation from a well-funded corporate lobby."

Though most Conservatives opposed the bill, 26 government backbenchers supported it, giving it all-party support.

Industry Minister Tony Clement said the bill seemed to serve the commercial purposes of generic drug manufacturers more than humanitarian aims.

The government would prefer to directly fund NGOs who can purchase cheaper drugs from India or Asia, said a spokeswoman for Clement in an email.

Others have raised concerns about intellectual property rights and incentives for research and development for drug companies.

LIVES TO BE SAVED

"It's not about patents, it's not about factories, it's not about health care systems," said Orbinksi. "It's about access to life-saving medicines."

Elliott said the targeted markets for the generic drugs do not represent significant revenue sources for the pharmaceutical companies.

He noted 1.27 million children need access to HIV/AIDS treatment but only about 200,000 receive any.