Medicines for all? Commitment and compromise in the fight for Canada’s law on compulsory licensing for export

Article in « The Power of Pills — Social, Ethical & Legal Issues in Drug Development, Marketing and Pricing » (Pluto Books, 2006)

In May 2004, Canada became the first country to enact detailed legislation to allow compulsory licensing of patented pharmaceuticals so that lower-cost, generic versions could be exported to eligible developing countries lacking the industrial capacity to manufacture their own medicines. Canadian civil society groups, organised loosely under the aegis of GTAG, not only provided the impetus for the bill but were crucial to securing important amendments before it was enacted in its final form. In some respects, the legislation sets some positive precedents. But the government’s unprincipled willingness to compromise its initiative to placate the multinational patented pharmaceutical industry means that the legislation falls short of being a model worth simply replicating elsewhere. Rather, activists and organisations working for access to medicines should appreciate both its merits and flaws. This article provides an overview of civil society’s campaigning for the legislation and assesses the final outcome.

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