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Canadian healthcare: walk the walk?

April 30, 2009

Canada is known internationally for healthcare. Michael Moore propagandistically spouts that Canada is where it’s at when it comes to a nationalised system; Stephen Lewis represents the country on the world-stage as former United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS to Koffi Annan, setting a prime example as an unwavering champion of human rights. But do such high-profile headlines actually translate into tangible results for millions of people in desperate need of essential medicines worldwide?

Five years ago, the Canadian Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) was passed by Parliament, promising increased access to affordable, generic medicines to the patients who needed it most around the globe. The announcement of CAMR was applauded by human rights and healthcare advocacy organisations, and received strong support from all political parities. There is no doubt that an initiative of this sort is needed: less than 15% of children living with HIV worldwide have access to the medicines they need, and one in two children living with HIV in the developing world dies before reaching their second birthday.

While lofty in aim and potentially life-saving, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network contends that it is weighted down in policy, making it difficult to put to practice. According to the group, “both the companies that make the generic medicines and the developing countries that need them are reluctant to face the bureaucratic burden of the current law.” Since it’s announcement, CAMR has been used only once.

An initiative of this magnitude has the potential to increase the availability of essential medicines to children and adults living with HIV and TB in some of the poorest regions of the world. But we cannot pat ourselves on the back for legislation that is passed but not practiced.

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and other organisations are responding to such bureaucratic red tape by making guiding amendments to legislation. The group states that if CAMR is simplified, “Canada’s largest generic pharmaceutical manufacturer…will produce a lower-cost children’s version of a key AIDS drug for export to developing countries” under the amended legislation.

Let’s hope that we can make this something that Canada can truly be proud of.

Check out the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network’s website for information on how to get more involved.

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