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Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling on the Canadian government to attach conditions to the funding it provides to medical research and development (R&D) — and to ensure that any medicines, vaccines and health technologies created with public money will be made accessible and affordable for public health needs.

MSF Canada has delivered a petition with more than 91,000 signatures to Canada’s Minister of Health, the Hon. Patty Hajdu, calling on the Canadian government to take immediate steps to ensure fair, affordable and equitable access to any medicines, vaccines or other health technologies developed with Canadian public funds, including for any innovations developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Press release: MSF calls on Canada to ensure medicines developed with public funds are affordable and accessible

Read MSF's letter to Canada's Health Minister Patty Hajdu

Press release: MSF calls on Canada and other governments to make all COVID-19 vaccine licensing agreements with pharmaceutical corporations public

MSF and its supporters are demanding that Canada attach conditions to the funding it provides for medical research and development (R&D), requiring recipients to ensure that medicines and vaccines developed with public funds will be affordable, available and accessible to those who need them most. Without immediate action to attach such safeguards, MSF says, the Canadian government risks spending billions to develop new medicines that will simply be sold to private pharmaceutical corporations and priced out of reach of patients and health systems — including Canada’s.

“It’s unacceptable that potentially lifesaving medicines or vaccines developed with Canadian public funds – provided by Canadian taxpayers – could be priced out of reach of those who need them, in Canada or around the world,” says Dr. Jason Nickerson, MSF’s Humanitarian Affairs Advisor. “Public funds should deliver public goods. Any institution or organization receiving public funds should be required to ensure that any medicines, vaccines and other health technologies developed with the support of Canadians be made affordable and accessible to everyone who needs them.”

Learn more about why MSF is calling for changes in Canada around medical R&D and essential medicines

Why change is needed

Around the world, governments fund critically important medical research and development using public money — including more than $1 billion already committed by the Canadian government to developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Publicly funded research has led to dramatic healthcare innovations. In Canada alone, researchers have used government funds to support the discovery of an Ebola vaccine, insulin, the cardiac pacemaker and more.

Unfortunately, most countries — including Canada — rarely demand that the resulting health innovations be safeguarded for public health, or be made affordable and accessible to those who need them most.

In fact, these publicly funded vaccines, medicines and health technologies are often sold to private companies, who then determine who receives access to them — and at what price. This is unacceptable.

Public funds, private failure: Were profits put before lives with Canada's publicly funded Ebola vaccine?

Safeguards and transparency can make the difference

Simply put: Publicly funded medical innovations — including urgently needed medicines, vaccines, and other technologies — should be used to meet the needs of public health providers, not private pharmaceutical companies. Today, as governments spend billions to develop the tools needed to fight COVID-19, we must ensure that the resulting medicines and vaccines are affordable and accessible to everyone who needs them. 

We can make that happen.

By requiring that medicines, vaccines, and other medical tools developed with public funds in Canada are affordable and accessible for patients and health systems around the world, we can protect our public investments in medical research and development.

Read the text of MSF's petition to Canada's Health Minister, Patty Hajdu

MSF’s patients need lifesaving medicines

MSF works around the world delivering emergency medical care to people affected by conflict, disaster, poverty or neglect. As a humanitarian medical organization driven by the belief that everyone, no matter who they are or where they live, should have access to lifesaving health services, MSF provides essential care, free of charge, to patients and beneficiaries in more than 70 different countries.

Unfortunately, the global medical R&D system is not set up to respond to pressing public health needs in places with limited resources. It is often driven instead by commercial considerations and guided by the priorities of the for-profit pharmaceutical industry. Too often, the health priorities of our patients are not commercial priorities for pharmaceutical companies, simply because our patients and their health needs are not profitable enough.

As a result of this system of profit-before-public health, one billion people around the world are at risk from neglected and other diseases. New drugs and health technologies are urgently needed. But as MSF has seen first-hand in almost every context in which we work, the profits-before-people model that underpins the pharmaceutical R&D system is not delivering affordable medicines and is not prioritizing many urgent public health needs.

Watch the MSF panel discussion: Ensuring Global Access to Medicines & Vaccines amid COVID-19

From the Toronto Star: MSF wants Trudeau to commit to fair access to COVID-19 vaccines

Canadians are taking action

In our petition, MSF asked Canadians to join us in demanding that Canada’s Minister of Health make one simple policy change:

  • Canada’s medical research and development funding system should include safeguards requiring that any medicines, vaccines, and any other innovations discovered or developed with public funds be made affordable, accessible and available for everyone that needs them —- free of patents, monopolies and high prices. 

By signing our petition, Canadians are sending a clear message to the government that urgently needed medicines, such as those being developed against COVID-19, will be available to those who need them most, including to Canadians who paid to develop them.

Our petition, with 91,206 signatures, has been delivered to Health Minister Patty Hajdu. Stay tuned for updates, here or by following MSF Canada on Twitter.

Medicines, vaccines and treatments, including those for COVID-19, must be accessible and affordable to everyone who needs them.