Via The Globe and Mail: Why world-beating tropical drugs are so hard to get in Canada. Excerpt:
When an Alberta man mysteriously fell ill in the fall, it took a team of doctors and a biopsy of the patient’s muscle tissue to discover the cause: sarcocystosis, a rare parasitic infection.
The patient’s doctors wanted to treat him with albendazole, a common anti-worm pill that has been used safely around the globe for more than 20 years, and which is on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines.
But albendazole is not available in Canada. A Health Canada program that allows seriously ill patients to obtain unlicensed drugs – known as the Special Access Programme (SAP) – turned down the doctors’ request.
So Stan Houston, a University of Alberta professor of medicine and public health who was in Zimbabwe for work, walked into a private pharmacy in the southern African country, plunked down $60 (U.S.) and brought home in his suitcase a 14-day course of albendazole for the patient, who was being treated by some of Dr. Houston’s medical colleagues.
“I’m not quite sure of the legality, but I’m totally comfortable with the ethics of it,” Dr. Houston said. “The bottom line is that, after immense thought and effort and investigation, real experts thought this was the best thing to do … and SAP said no.”
Albendazole is one of a handful of older, world-beating medications that tropical-medicine doctors and infectious-disease specialists say are badly needed in Canada, but that cannot be prescribed because no pharmaceutical company has stepped up to license them here.
The problem is not the safety or efficacy of these drugs. It’s the size of the Canadian market. Drug makers cannot wring a profit from pills that only a few hundred migrants and travellers take every year.