Abstract – A one-time-only combination: Emergency medicine exports under Canada’s access to medicines regime

Ashley Weber and Lisa Mills

Health and Human Rights 12/1

Published June 2010


In 2008, a Canadian generic pharmaceutical firm, Apotex Inc. (Apotex), shipped 7 million doses of antiretroviral drugs to Rwanda for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. While this event may be seen as a positive outcome of international patent changes that facilitate the fulfillment of health as a human right, the fact that there has been only one shipment of medication in response to these changes highlights the difficulties with both the Canadian legislation and with the international decisions that it implements. The shipment was authorized under Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR), which implements the World Trade Organization (WTO) General Council Decision (the Decision), made in 2003, to permit someone other than the patent holder to manufacture a lower-cost version of a patented drug or medical device for export to developing countries that do not have the capacity to manufacture such products. The Decision requires that the developing country announce its intention to use this mechanism, to specify the expected quantity of drugs to be supplied, and to issue a compulsory license for the drugs. The requirement of notification in particular may render developing countries vulnerable to pressure from pharmaceutical firms. Neither the mechanism created by the Decision nor Canadian legislation implementing it have facilitated the export of generic medicines to developing countries. To date, the Canadian shipment is the only one to have occurred using the WTO mechanism.