For many years, countries such as Canada have avoided the uncomfortable truth that millions are dying in the developing world due partly to legal barriers that render access to medicines unaffordable. In 2003, the World Trade Organization reached agreement designed to facilitate the export of medicines by opening the door to a compulsory licence for developing countries without manufacturing capabilities. Canada became an early adopter of the agreement by reforming the Patent Act to allow the Canadian Commissioner of Patents to issue a compulsory licence to a pharmaceutical company to allow for the manufacture and export of an eligible drug or medical device to an eligible importing country. Titled the Jean Chretien Pledge to Africa Act after the former Prime Minister’s commitment to development support in Africa, the reforms were touted as an illustration of Canadian leadership on development issues.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that several years later, most agree the policy have been a near-total failure. The law has only been used once and the company involved in the process found it so burdensome that it has vowed not to repeat it. Moreover, other countries, including the European Union, the Netherlands, Switzerland, China, India and South Korea, have also implemented the WTO reforms in a manner that leaves the Canadian Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) looking unduly restrictive and outdated by comparison.