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Dr James Orbinski, founder of Dignitas International, in the village of Sekata in southern Malawi. Orbinski is calling on Canada to increase its contribution to the Global Fund, which delivers medicines for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. (Stephanie Nolen/The Globe and Mail)
Dr James Orbinski, founder of Dignitas International, in the village of Sekata in southern Malawi. Orbinski is calling on Canada to increase its contribution to the Global Fund, which delivers medicines for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. (Stephanie Nolen/The Globe and Mail)

HUMANITARIAN AID

Canada urged to boost ‘modest’ contribution to global health initiative Add to ...

The work of the international fund established to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria is starting to show significant results, and one of this country’s leading figures in humanitarian aid says Canada should move quickly to extend and enhance the country’s monetary support.

The Global Fund, the primary mechanism for delivering essential medicines in many developing nations, is asking for a three-year, $15-billion commitment from the world community to continue its work through 2016.

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While countries such as the United States and Switzerland have agreed to pay their share, Canada has not yet done so. A replenishment conference is expected to be held in the fall, and donor countries often announce how much they are willing to give.

But James Orbinski, chair of the medical-humanitarian organization Dignitas International, said Canada has an important opportunity to be a leader in demonstrating its commitment to global public health.

“We don’t want to be late,” Dr. Orbinski said, “and we want to actually play a role that encourages other nation states to act responsibly.”

Canada has given $150-million a year for the past three years to the Global Fund, which Dr. Orbinski called an important but “modest” allotment.

“A contribution of around $250-million a year would be appropriate to Canada’s place in the world and would be appropriate to a 0.7-per-cent contribution according to our GDP, and that’s the standard to which we should be operating.”

Dr. Orbinski – a Canadian who was president of the international council of Médecins sans frontières when it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 – was interviewed by telephone from Malawi, where 350,000 people are receiving the full treatment for AIDS, many of them supported by Dignitas.

“The tide to the [HIV] epidemic has begun to turn because of the Global Fund. The number of new cases in the developing world has fallen by 25 per cent because of access to treatment,” Dr. Orbinski said. And the number of people being treated for tuberculosis and malaria has also increased dramatically, he said.

Julian Fantino, the Minister for the International Co-operation, recently committed an additional $20-million to a Global Fund malaria initiative. “Canada is a founding member of the Global Fund, and our government will continue to play a leadership role on the world stage to improve the health of mothers, newborns, and children,” Mr. Fantino said Wednesday.

“Our recent contribution to the Global Fund will help to increase access to malaria medicines for 43,000 people. Canada remains resolute in its commitment to improving the lives of those most in need around the world.”

But the Conservative government has cut the budget of the Canadian International Development Agency from $3.9-billion in 2011-12 to a budgeted $3.1-billion in 2013-14 – a drop of just under 20 per cent in two years. And humanitarian organizations are unsure where the cuts will be made.

Dr. Orbinski said Canada’s commitment to the Global Fund represents wise self-interest.

“Ensuring access to treatment through the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and malaria reduces the probability of drug resistant tuberculosis, and it reduces the possibility of drug-resistant HIV, which, in a global economy, poses risks, not only to people in Africa and the developing world, but to the entire world, including Canada.”

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