Canada hopes its plan to "proactively increase" its contributions to fighting the world's three most deadly infectious diseases – tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria – will inspire others to do the same, the federal Health Minister says.
"We're hiking our financial commitment and hopefully other countries will do the same," Jane Philpott said in an interview.
On Sept. 16, Canada will host the triennial "replenishment conference" of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, with a goal to secure commitments of $13-billion (U.S.) for 2017-19. The Global Fund is the world's main funding body for activities related to the prevention and treatment of the big three infectious diseases.
Canada has already announced its contribution – $785-million (Canadian) over three years – which is a 20-per-cent increase over its previous donation of $650-million.
At the 21st International Conference on AIDS, held last week in Durban, South Africa, Dr. Philpott used the occasion to lobby other countries to continue to invest in global public health, and she was, in turn, lobbied by a number of non-governmental organizations.
She acknowledged that there are many demands on governments – including the refugee crisis and the ongoing threat of terrorism – all behind a backdrop of austerity, but said the world cannot afford to neglect public health and the world's poorest, who are disproportionately affected by infectious diseases.
"HIV continues to be a substantial international challenge," Dr. Philpott said. "So is TB, an area where Canada is, and will continue to be, a global leader."
The World Health Organization has established ambitious targets to eliminate the transmission of HIV and TB by 2030. But doing so requires a significant global effort, and that's not cheap.
However, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization based in California, spending on HIV prevention and treatment in developing countries fell to $7.5-billion (U.S.) in 2015 from $8.6-billion in 2014.
"I'm scared of what I'm seeing," said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS. "For the first time in five years, there's been a reduction in government funding. Thirteen of the 14 leading countries have reduced their contributions."
The United States is, by far, the most generous donor, contributing about two-thirds of all global aid for HIV-AIDS, followed by Britain at 13 per cent, France at 3.7 per cent, Germany at 2.7 per cent, the Netherlands at 2.3 per cent and Canada at 1.5 per cent.
Stephen Lewis, co-founder of AIDS-Free World, said he is pleased that Canada is hosting the replenishment conference and boosting its modest contribution. But at the same time, he said, the government is being "too timid," and should be seeking $14-billion, with the additional $1-billion earmarked for tuberculosis.
About 53 per cent of the Global Fund currently goes to HIV-AIDS, 30 per cent to malaria and 17 per cent to tuberculosis, even though TB is the biggest killer.
Dr. Philpott actively participated in the conference, which is unusual for a top-level politician but not surprising given that she spent 10 years working as a physician in the West African country of Niger.
"This was a tremendous opportunity to learn," she said.
The minister said one of her take-home messages is that Canada can do more to prevent HIV-AIDS. There are about 50 new cases of HIV in the country each week, many in marginalized communities, such as indigenous peoples and intravenous drug users.
Dr. Philpott said she would like to see all provinces adopt British Columbia's treatment-as-prevention strategy and other harm-reduction measures suited to their circumstances.
"We have to step up our game," she said.