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Bono hails changes to federal AIDS drug bill; critics have mixed praise

Posted on Wednesday, April 21 @ 08:11:09 CEST by Macphisto

(Canadian Press) -- OTTAWA (CP) - U2 rocker Bono praised Prime Minister Paul Martin on Tuesday for showing "real political guts" in the global war on AIDS.

"This kind of thing keeps Canada in the lead," Bono said in a statement on changes to a federal bill that would speed cut-rate drugs to developing countries. "This is a real breakthrough and shows real political guts from Paul Martin." Bono, the charismatic frontman for the Irish mega-band U2 and an AIDS-awareness crusader, gave a rousing speech at the Liberal leadership convention last fall. He urged Martin to make good on efforts by his predecessor, Jean Chretien, to get drugs to countries that couldn't otherwise afford them.

Martin said he would.

But non-governmental groups said changes to proposed federal legislation don't go far enough.

"The bill is better with these amendments but it's not satisfactory," said Gauri Sreenivasan of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation.

Her group joined Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam Canada and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network on Tuesday calling for more changes to draft legislation known as Bill C-9.

They praised the Liberals for dropping a so-called "first right of refusal" clause that would have given more costly patent-drug producers the first chance to supply AIDS drugs to poor countries.

Under first right of refusal, patent holders would have been given 30 days to take over contracts between generic firms and such consumers. Opponents argued that would unfairly undercut participation by manufacturers of less expensive drugs.

But the bill includes a new section in what was cast at Tuesday's news conference as an alarming development. It would allow patent holders to tie up generic producers in court simply by alleging that the no-name manufacturers are charging prices higher than 25 per cent of the patent-holders' Canadian price.

The groups urged the government to drop that section, along with lists that would specify which drugs can be imported by which countries.

Such lists were flatly rejected by the World Trade Organization as suggesting that "developing countries may only get a few medicines at cheaper prices," said David Morley, executive director of Doctors Without Borders Canada.

"The very lives of poor people are more important than intellectual property rights," said Rieky Stuart, executive director of Oxfam Canada.

Like Bono, she also called on Ottawa to hike spending on international HIV/AIDS education and testing.

HIV-positive women in parts of Africa are publicly reviled as promiscuous, while men think using a condom is "an attack on their manhood," she said.

It's estimated that 30 million of the world's 45 million AIDS sufferers live in Africa. Many are dying because they don't have access to the drugs developed over the past decade to help stem the deadly epidemic.

The bill and its proposed changes, now being debated by a Commons standing committee, could be back in Parliament for third and final reading as early as next week.

Martin has made the bill's passage one of his top priorities before an expected federal election is called.

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