Category Archives: Media

Drop a beat: Grannies rap about access to medicines

Canadian grannies and their families rap to K’naan’s Wavin Flag to demand that Canada make good on its promise to provide affordable medicines to countries in need. A child dies every 6 seconds in developing countries because of a lack of affordable, lifesaving medicines. Some 17 million children in Africa have been orphaned because of HIV/AIDS. Most are being raised by their courageous, desperately poor grandmothers. You can help–take action at and contact your local politicians today!


A Primer on the Subject of Access to Medicines

Here’s a piece I wrote for online reading at Scientific American. It basically tries to cover the main ideas and main challenges in Access to Medicines issues. Not a bad place to start to get into the swing of things. Also, If you’re a reader from Canada, don’t forget to check out Here, you can look up your candidates and send off an email to support the Call to Action to reform Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime and help save lives!

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30 minutes, 70 fates.

You don’t know it, but as I write this piece, there is some serious procrastination going on. My attention span is weak and sidetracked constantly by a variety of diversions, and if you must know, it’s taken me close to half an hour to write these first two sentences. Still, one could argue that none of us are strangers to procrastination, and 30 minutes is relatively short – only a minor instance of time in the grand scheme of things.

But a lot can happen in thirty minutes. Earlier, I had been looking over some 2009 UNAIDS statistics, and noting the numbers issued in the report. They are all very big, big enough certainly to require the pressing of buttons on calculators. More to the point, I learn that during my thirty minutes, approximately 70 people died from HIV/AIDS in Sub-Sahara Africa. That’s 1.3 million victims each year – in Sub-Sahara Africa alone. Many of these were parents leaving orphans, and many were young children just leaving. Most troubling, however, is the fact that all of them suffered their fate with a loss of dignity.

Why do I say this? I say this because people shouldn’t have to die from HIV/AIDS. There are good medicines out there, and they can control the disease. In fact, for those in the developed world, HIV/AIDS is now considered a chronic disorder, not a death sentence. If you are diagnosed, you are no longer forced to take a shortcut to demise. You can still have a long life, you can still be productive, and you can still live with dignity.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an option for those who passed away. For them, the medicines were out of reach. They were simply too expensive. And from this, you come to realize a cold hard fact in this narrative: that the fate of a person living or dying from HIV/AIDS is determined by their income. This statement is fairly straightforward, with no mincing of words, or confused rhetoric. But for most, it feels fundamentally wrong, and yet, it is a simple reality of how the world works today. Why it works in this way, however, is complicated.
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Why do Data Exclusivity and Investment Rules suck?

O.K. First the tough part: bringing yourself to want to read about “Data Exclusivity” and “Investment Rules.” Granted, not the most common buzz words you hear about in media, but it’s actually very interesting. More so, if you have even a peripheral interest in what all the fuss is with regards to the EU-India Free Trade Agreement talks.

Anyway, there’s a great piece from MSF that does a pretty good job of outlining the problems with granting Data Exclusivity and tweaking Investment Rules when it comes to generic drug production.

Here’s the part on Data Exclusivity, if you’re more keen to just get on with reading it than clicking through to the whole article:

Data exclusivity (DE) is a backdoor way for multinational pharmaceutical companies to get a monopoly and charge high drug prices, even when their drug has been found to not deserve a patent, or the patent has expired – DE would apply to all drugs.

If India accepts DE, the agency in charge of approving medicines for use in the country would not be allowed to register a generic version of a medicine for a period of time – usually 5 to 10 years. To register a generic, producers rely on the clinical trial data provided by the originator company to show the drug is safe and effective. All the generic has to prove is that it is identical to the originator product. But if DE were in place, the originator company’s clinical trial data would be protected by ‘exclusivity’ and generic producers would therefore have to submit their own safety & efficacy data to register the generic medicines. This would oblige them to repeat clinical trials—something that would take years and be incredibly expensive, not to mention unethical, as it would involve withholding a drug that has already proven to be effective from some of the participants in the trial.

LINK: Briefing Note: Data Exclusivity & Investment Rules in EU-India FTA

HIV/AIDS expert Julio Montaner urges Vancouver crowd not to vote for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives

Former President of the International AIDS Society and Director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Dr. Julio Montaner, delivered a powerful speech calling on Canadians to do the right thing with their vote in the upcoming federal election:

“Even the pope gets it, so why the hell does Stephen Harper [not] get it,” Montaner, a former International AIDS Society president, said.

The Harper government has launched court challenges to try to have Vancouver’s supervised-injection site shut down.

Montaner revealed that B.C. is the only jurisdiction in the country that has experienced steadily decreasing rates of new HIV diagnoses since 1996.

He pointed out that no other region in the country can match B.C.’s record.

“Do the right thing when you go to vote,” Montaner advised the audience.


You can find the original article from the Georgia Straight here.

O.K. You want coverage of Tony Clement being sneaky? Here you go.

Probably not his favourite picture of himself.

So at the bottom of this post is a quick round-up of the various news articles that went up (just before Bill C-393 died), that basically showed how the Bill was delayed and ultimately killed…

But for those who want the truncated version, here (in a nutshell) is what basically transpired. You can get a fuller version of the events of that one week of Senate activities by checking out this megafacepalm post at Boingboing.

1. We have someone who would like to say some stuff, but, hang on, he’s stepped out so let’s delay it until tomorrow…

2. And then there was stuff about “Well if you want it passed, you should try to make sure this election call doesn’t happen, but oh wait, let’s delay it for a day anyway…”

3. And then the next day, it was delayed again…

4. And then again, except “Oh, here’s an interesting leaked email, which happened to be full of spun misinformation, going around…” Hmmm… maybe we should delay it another day?

5. And then, well, it essentially died because you know the election call thingy happened (oh what a shock! If we had known, maybe we would have dealt with this earlier!).

So what happened: Well, by and large it seemed to be that certain folks preferred to not have to vote on Bill C-393 (knowing how popular it was and all), especially since there is always the need to maintain good relationships with your pharmaceutical friends.

All to say that this doesn’t strike me as either being very a rational way to examine a potentially invaluable law, or a very democratic way to do things.

Tory senators determined to delay bill giving medical aid to Africa (Ottawa Citizen, 23 March, 2011)

Tony Clement behind Senate delay, leaked document shows (Xtra!, 24 March 2011)

Clement attempts to block AIDS drug bill (Toronto Star, 24 March 2011)

Tony Clement urges senators to block generic-drug legislation (The Globe & Mail, 24 March 2011)

Supporters vow to make AIDS drugs an election issue.

(From Dale Smith National / Thursday, April 07, 2011) – link

NEWS / Grannies target opponents, including former senator Larry Smith

A bill that would reform Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) — which would make it easier to sell cheap generic AIDS drugs to the developing world — died in the Senate when the election was called. Supporters of reforming CAMR have vowed to make this an issue on the campaign trail, and some of them have the organization to make this a reality.

For the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, a group of “grandmothers and grand others” from the Western world who pair with grandmothers in the developing world to address the challenges of AIDS there, they have already begun the work.

“We’re putting articles in every community newspaper, and continuing to write articles for major newspapers, and trying to get the press involved in this as much as we can,” says Bonnie Johnson, an Ottawa member of the Grandmothers’ national advocacy committee. “We intend to be asking questions at every candidates’ meeting, and we intend to get a question asked at the leaders’ debate.”

There are more than 240 Grandmothers groups around the country.
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Questions raised about industry influence on anti-depressant studies

(From Friday’s Globe and Mail: Published Thursday, Apr. 07, 2011 6:28PM EDT) – link

“For more than two decades, researchers have been unable to settle an important question: Can anti-depressant medications stimulate the growth of breast and ovarian cancers?

Some studies pointed to a link, but others did not.

Now a re-examination of the available evidence has cast a new – and disturbing – light on the previous research. Many studies that seemed to absolve the drugs of blame were carried out by researchers with close ties to the pharmaceutical industry, according to a report published this week in the online journal PLoS (Public Library of Science) One.”

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