Canada puts intellectual property rights above access to medicines in developing countries

November 25, 2013

OTTAWA—Canada has failed in its humanitarian duty to protect the human right to health in the form of safe and low cost medicines for the people in developing countries, says a study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

Canadian reports have recommended that health as a human right must be Canada’s overarching global commitment and that the primacy of human rights should be prioritized over other elements of international law, including international trade and investment law as it applies to pharmaceuticals.

The study, by Dr. Joel Lexchin, examines six cases to determine Canada’s commitment to this goal and finds Canada was neutral in one case but in the remaining five cases, Canada prioritized intellectual property rights (IPRs) over access.

“It would be a mistake to conclude that Canada has not done anything to help improve access to medications in developing countries. Between 2001 and 2010, Canada contributed over USD $874 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria,” says Lexchin.

“What this study shows is that whenever there has been a conflict between access and supporting intellectual property rights, the Canadian government—regardless of its political leanings—has either been neutral or consistently backed strong IPRs.”

According to the study, the Canadian prioritization of IPRs internationally is a reflection of what has been happening domestically in Canada for over 25 years. Canadian governments have made a series of decisions emphasizing IPRs to encourage pharmaceutical investment in R&D. This stance has led to the country having the 3rd or 4th most expensive brand name products among eight major developed countries while industry investment in R&D has remained stagnant.

The study concludes that support for intellectual property rights is not justified given the lack of evidence of their positive benefits for developing countries. There is no relationship between patent protection and investment in R&D for developing countries.

“The expectation by the Canadian government that the poorest countries in the world should adopt IPRs that are equivalent to those in wealthy developed countries ignores both historical and current economic realities,” Lexchin says.


Canada and Access to Medicines in Developing Countries: Intellectual Property Rights First is available on the CCPA website:

For more information contact Kerri-Anne Finn, CCPA Senior Communications Officer, at 613-563-1341 x306.