Globalization and Health
[Accessed 7 September 2013]
Canada and access to medicines in developing countries: intellectual property rights first
Lexchin J Globalization and Health 2013, 9:42 (3 September 2013)
Canadian reports have recommended that health as a human right must be Canada’s overarching global commitment and that the primacy of human rights should be prioritized over other elements of international law including international trade and investment law as it applies to access to pharmaceuticals. This paper uses a series of case reports to examine Canada’s commitment to this goal. Specifically it examines cases where improved access has been in conflict with increased intellectual property rights. The 6 cases are: Canada’s position when 39 pharmaceutical companies took South Africa to court in 1998 over its legislation to allow parallel importation of patented medicines and to regulate the price of medications; the stance that Canada took in the negotiations around the Doha Declaration in 2001; the passage of Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime in 2004 and subsequent attempts to amend the legislation in 2011 and 2012; Canada’s involvement in the final declaration at the United Nations High-Level meeting on non-communicable diseases in 2012; Canada’s views about the terms in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement as expressed in 2009; and Canada’s 2013 position on the extension of the exemption for least developed countries from having to comply with the terms of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement. In the first case Canada was neutral but in the remaining 5 cases Canada prioritized intellectual property rights over access. This position is consistent with how Canada has acted around domestic issues involving intellectual property rights for pharmaceutical products. Canada has supported strengthened rights despite the fact that their touted benefits have not been realized either domestically or in developing countries. As a result Canada has failed in its humanitarian duty to protect the human right to health in the form of safe and low cost medicines for the people in developing countries.