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Press release

UNICEF hails Canada's move to expand access to AIDS drugs

NEW YORK, 29 September 2003 - UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy praised Canada’s push to quickly enact legislation allowing Canadian generic medicine companies to export cheaper versions of patented medicines to poor countries hard hit by the AIDS pandemic.

If the law passes, Canada would become the first G7 nation to implement World Trade Organization agreements that allow hard-hit countries to import critically-needed cheaper medicines provided they prove they cannot produce the medicines domestically, and will not use them for commercial purposes. The move answers an urgent call by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, a former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.

Bellamy called Canada’s action a “smart response.” It represents “the first major move by a major, industrialised country to overcome a key structural hurdle in getting life-saving medicines to people who desperately need them,” Bellamy said. “The decision will expand overall availability of antiretrovirals in poor countries, and it will encourage competition; this is good for people, and this is good for economies. It’s a path-breaking step in the fight against AIDS.”

HIV/AIDS is disproportionately impacting children and young people, particularly girls. More than half the 14,000 daily new HIV infections occur among people below the age of 25. Because of the disease, the number of orphans is also increasing dramatically and will continue to rise. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region hardest hit, the proportion of orphans whose parents died from AIDS rose almost tenfold, from 3.5% to 32% between 1990 and 2001. Millions more are living in households undergoing the severe emotional, social and financial stress of AIDS-related illness.

“The hardest hit countries are seeing HIV prevalance rates as high as 40 per cent among young people.  This scenario spells devastation for these countries,” she said. “Like Canada, other countries and players need to think much more creatively about steps they can take to energize and politicize the global response to this massive AIDS emergency.”

“UNICEF has a long experience in procuring and delivering life-saving supplies to children and families in desperate need. It is already providing anti-retroviral medicines to prevent the transmission of HIV transmission from mothers to children and to some of those mothers who have benefited from this intervention. We are ready, as always, to continue to put our procurement and delivery systems to significantly scale up this action on behalf of children, their mothers and family members,” Bellamy said.

“Knowing that a country like Canada supports the use of WTO agreements in ways that enhance public health gives a great sense of confidence to poor countries, and goes a long way in enabling a rapidly accelerated access to affordable life-saving medicines,” Bellamy said.


For further information:

Liza Barrie, UNICEF New York,
Senior Communication Adviser, HIV/AIDS
(1-646) 207-5178; lbarrie@unicef.org

Marixie Mercado, UNICEF New York,
Media Officer, HIV/AIDS
(1-212) 326-7133; mmercado@unicef.org




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