To the editor:
Ron Cannan, Colin Mayes and Dan Albas vote against Bill C-398.
I have been living with HIV since 1989. I found out that I was infected in 1994.
My husband and I had a six-month-old baby daughter, Katie, and she became very sick and was soon taken to BC Children’s Hospital with pneumonia. While there, we were given the devastating news that Katie had been infected with the AIDS virus.
We were both asked to come in to get tested and we were given the news that my husband was not infected but I was—I later discovered I had been infected by a man prior to meeting my husband five years earlier.
Unfortunately, the only medication in those days was AZT and many people were dying because the life-saving medicine was not yet available. We felt helpless and watched our daughter die just three months later when she was nine months old.
Since that time, I have been an advocate for children with HIV and was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Gold and Diamond Jubilee Medals for educating the public about women and children living with HIV/AIDS.
Just two years after Katie died, a triple cocktail medication arrived and many people went on to live healthier and longer lives, with less threat of passing on the disease. The Treatment as Prevention Initiative by the BC Centre for Excellence was lauded around the world and I am glad to report that my husband was not infected by me in 18 years of marriage.
Extremely expensive medications for the AIDS pandemic, tuberculosis and malaria were under patents held by the pharmaceutical industry. More than seven years ago, Parliament unanimously passed Canada’s Access to Medicine Regime (CAMR), helping to get lower-cost, generic medicines to people in developing countries. However, only one order of one AIDS drug was sent and developing nations and generic drug makers said the system was too cumbersome and difficult to use.
CAMR reform was proposed and many humanitarian organizations supported the Bill, including Doctors Without Borders, as well as 80 per cent of the population polled. The new Bill successfully passed in Parliament by 60 votes and our own MP, Hon. Ron Cannan voted in favour.
However, the Order Paper was killed when Parliament was dissolved and the 2011 election was called. After that, the Conservative Party majority grew.
Once more, CAMR reform was introduced to Parliament. Some MPs claimed that it would not meet WTO regulations, however; the pharmaceutical companies supported it and so did international trade lawyers. Both the NDP and Liberal Party supported the Bill but soon misinformation was circulating and many Conservatives refused to commit to signing. Representatives from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network met with Ron Cannan and he agreed to once more support the Bill. MP Colin Mayes said that he was undecided and was sent information clarifying the changes. Doctors Without Borders once more supported the Bill.
On Nov. 28, the Bill was defeated by a majority of seven votes, Mr. Canaan being one, with all but seven of the Conservatives voting against—it is important to note that Justin Trudeau was also absent from the House.
The Conservative MPs who bucked party politics and voted for the Bill are: Mike Allen, James Bezan, Michael Chong, Ben Lobb, Maurice Vellacott, Terence Young and David Wilks.
I don’t have to imagine watching a child die from this disease, and the thought that other people have the life-saving medications and yet not pass them on to end the pandemic is abhorrent. The transmission of HIV from mother to child can now be avoided and since 1996 zero new HIV mother-to-child transmissions have been reported in Vancouver—yet over 400,000 babies are infected worldwide every year.
I am singling out Mr. Cannan since his own parents died of AIDS, however Mr. Mayes also voted against the Bill, as did Mr. Albas of Coquihalla-Okanagan. I invite any one of them to explain their actions when humanitarian organizations dealing with these diseases every day called upon them to do the right thing.