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CAMR – Grannies versus Big Pharma

Senate hearings on Bill S-232, regarding changes to Canada's Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) resumed today, with the Banking and Trade committee hearing from two very different voices. On the one hand, four representatives from the Grandmothers to Grandmothers initiative were on hand to talk about their work in reacing out to grandmothers in Africa, who are often left taking care of grandchildren after their own children succumb to HIV and AIDS. Theirs was a message of humanitarianism, complete with heartwrenching tales of small children born with the virus because their mothers did not have access to anti-retroviral drugs during their pregancies, and how those children did not make it to their second birthday. (A photo was even passed around of such a child, looking chubby and healthy at 18 months, next to a photo of her coffin some six months later).

On the other hand, representatives from major pharmaceutical companies were there, along with a representative from Canada' Research-Based Pharmaceuticals Companies, and an intellectual property lawyer. Their main argument was that CAMR is already working, and they wanted to raise doubts about the timeline that Apotex presented two weeks ago to the committee about the time it took for them to attempt a voluntary license before being given a compulsory one.

In the short break between presentations, I spoke to Senator Sharon Carstairs, who is sponsoring the bill.

Q: What have you thought so far of what you’ve heard in the hearings?
A: I’ve been very delighted. Clearly the evidence to date has been that the bill is totally WTO and TRIPS compliant, which is the only objection that has been raised, and that clearly it is a humanitarian need that needs to be addressed.

Q: You’re about to hear from the pharmaceutical companies. Any thoughts as to what they might bring up as concerns?
A: I think they will in fact try to argue that it is not WTO compliant, but I think the balance of the evidence so far is that it clearly is, and I will be clearly asking some questions as to why they think it is not.

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