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|Written by Hilary Elliott|
|Thursday, 13 May 2010 00:00|
Over the past four years, an extraordinary movement has been growing among Canadian grandmothers. More than 220 groups from coast to coast have taken up a call to action, more than $7 million has been raised, and a deep solidarity with grandmothers in Africa has been established. The focus of this Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign is on the grandmothers in sub-Saharan Africa who have seen their adult children die of HIV/AIDS, leaving orphaned grandchildren for whom they now care. The campaign seeks to raise awareness and mobilize support in Canada for these African
directs them to "community-level organizations in 15 sub-Saharan countries that provide grandmothers with much needed support, such as food, housing grants, school fees for their grandchildren and grief counseling." The goal is to support both the grandmothers and the surviving young women who will become leaders if given support and education. These funds also buy coffins for the more than one million HIV/AIDS-related deaths that occur in sub-Saharan Africa each year.
grandmothers. The funds raised go to the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which
Over the past four years, an extraordinary movement has been growing among Canadian grandmothers. More than 220 groups from coast to coast have taken up a call to action, more than $7 million has been raised, and a deep solidarity with grandmothers in Africa has been established. The focus of this Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign is on the grandmothers in sub-Saharan Africa who have seen their adult children die of HIV/AIDS, leaving orphaned grandchildren for whom they now care.
The campaign seeks to raise awareness and mobilize support in Canada for these African directs them to "community-level organizations in 15 sub-Saharan countries that provide grandmothers with much needed support, such as food, housing grants, school fees for their grandchildren and grief counseling." The goal is to support both the grandmothers and the surviving young women who will become leaders if given support and education. These funds also buy coffins for the more than one million HIV/AIDS-related deaths that occur in sub-Saharan Africa each year. grandmothers. The funds raised go to the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which
The concept of solidarity has defined the work of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign since the birth of the movement. It is a two-way relationship in which the Canadian grandmothers are the voices in Canada in support of grandmothers in Africa. Communication occurs through Gatherings in Canada and Africa and through frequent feedback to the Stephen Lewis Foundation offices from the African field. The ties that bind these Canadian and African grandmothers to one another are the shared values of human rights and health and education for all the children of the world. Together these grandmothers aspire to "turn the tide" of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. This movement is based not on charity but on solidarity. The difference, as defined by Eduardo Galeano, sums up the philosophy of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign:
"... solidarity ...is horizontal and takes place between equals, charity is top-down, humiliating those who receive it and never challenging the implicit power relations."
The solidarity of the Grandmothers Campaign comes from the recognition that HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is a humanitarian issue. According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations AIDS (UNAIDS) in 2008:
Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for:
Women and girls continue to be affected disproportionately by HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. The number of children dying of AIDS before their second birthday is intolerable. Thousands of people are dying needlessly every day for want of treatment drugs. UNICEF estimates that this year there could be 15.7 million AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. These children are cared for in orphanages, in child-headed households, and by grandparents (AIDS Epidemic Update 2009, WHO).
This is a critical moment in the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign because legislation to fix Canada's Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR -- Bill C-393), which passed second reading in December by a vote of 143 to 127, is now before a Commons Committee for more detailed study. If CAMR is fixed, Canada can keep its promise to provide a steady flow of lower-cost, life-saving medicines to Africa. Bill C-393, designed to unblock the flow of cheaper, generic drugs to developing countries is our best hope for fixing CAMR. The Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign supports the passage of this Bill as it will contribute to saving lives in Africa of both children and their parents.
The Bill's progress began in May 2004 when the WTO loosened its patent restrictions and Canada responded to the urgent need for low-cost, life-saving HIV/AIDS medicines in developing countries by passing CAMR with unanimous support from all political parties. The purpose of this legislation was to allow the licensing of affordable, generic versions of pharmaceutical products patented in Canada for export to eligible developing countries; an admirable goal that has not been met. As it stands, CAMR is too flawed to be effective. It is layered with restrictions and regulatory requirements that make it difficult, time consuming and costly for both the developing countries and Canadian manufacturers to use. In five years there has only been one shipment of drugs under CAMR- sent in two parts to Rwanda in September 2008 and September 2009. While these two shipments of drugs were a tremendous breakthrough for several thousand people living with HIV in Rwanda, it took years of persistence for Apotex, the generic drug manufacturer, to send this order. The delivery of one order to one country by one generic drug company in five years cannot be termed successful. We Canadians have a responsibility to do better. Fortunately, with a spirit of solidarity we can reform this Bill to meet its original goal of the provision of affordable generic drugs to developing countries.
Recognizing the potential in CAMR, which is being stymied by its flaws, for the past two years a coalition of nongovernmental organizations has campaigned for reforms to the legislation. In part because of these efforts, two Private Members' bills were introduced to reform CAMR in the Spring of 2009 -- one in the Senate (Bill S-232, which is now dead because of prorogation) and one in the House of Commons (Bill C-393, which survived prorogation because it is a Private Member's bill).
Bill C-393, tabled by MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, the New Democrat Party's Health Critic, proposes a "one-licence solution," making it simple to get a single licence to export lower-cost generic medicines to developing countries. The current law requires a separate negotiation and licensing process for every single drug order from every single country, with all the associated transaction costs and delays.
"Five years ago, when we changed the Patent Act, we thought we were opening the floodgates to get cheaper generic drugs to the developing countries where they're desperately needed," said Wasylycia-Leis. "Instead, we've seen only a trickle -- one licence application in all that time. We've got to fix this -- hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake. This bill cuts out the needless bureaucracy stalling the process so drugs can start flowing."
Bill C-393 has received support from international health advocacy organizations such as the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and ResultsCanada. Knowledgeable experts have answered every question raised about the amendment. There is no cost and it adheres to WTO and Canadian health regulations and intellectual property rules. There are clear provisions within CAMR to ensure brand-name pharmaceutical companies receive royalties for the use of medicines which they have patented. Bill C-393 retains these provisions. Nothing in CAMR or in Bill C-393 "threatens to undermine research and development, since the rich countries that account for the vast majority of their profits, and drive their decisions about investing in research and development, are excluded from the list of possible purchasers" (National Advocacy Committee of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, 2009).
Fixing CAMR alone will not solve all the problems of improving access to medicines in developing countries; however, amendments to CAMR will make a big difference. Apotex Canada has indicated its willingness to develop a medicine primarily for children, one dose, easy to swallow. But their commitment is based on making CAMR more workable. If Bill C-393 passes, we can hope to see life-saving affordable generic medicines reaching people who otherwise would die. Canadians consistently say that they want to see their country play a compassionate role contributing to the provision of education, clean water and life saving drugs; however, our government has not upheld key commitments to the world's poor. Reforming CAMR will be a strong indication of Canada's commitment.
It is time we kept our promise. What can you do? Act in solidarity with Canadian and African grandmothers. Please write, email, or phone your Member of Parliament, calling upon them to recommend passage of Bill C-393 without significant changes.
Further information on the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign can be found at http://www.stephenlewisfoundation.org/grandmothers.htm