Today (Dec. 1) marks the 25th World AIDS Day. Two days later, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will convene leaders from around the world in Washington to make critical funding pledges to alter the trajectory of these three epidemics. Several governments including the United States, Britain, France, Germany and the Nordic Countries have already announced their pledges. Canada, however, has yet to make an up-front commitment.
We've come a long way in our collective battle with HIV/AIDS. Today, we have the experience and scientific evidence to fight the epidemic effectively. In 2013, UNAIDS reported that the scale-up of treatment has enabled nearly 10 million people to gain access to life-saving medicines. This has been in large part due to the efforts of the Global Fund. In the last decade, the Fund has been a driving force in enabling millions to benefit from prevention, care and treatment programs in their countries.
The Global Fund is the primary mechanism for financing essential HIV medicines in low-income countries. And with more than two-thirds of those living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, the Global Fund is the channel through which these drugs reach the most vulnerable people. The Fund enables Dignitas International's medical work in Malawi: one of the poorest countries with one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. In Malawi, Dignitas works to improve patient health through access to quality HIV treatment and care. Since 2004, we've been able to support life-saving treatment for more than 200,000 people and dramatically improve access to HIV services for millions of Malawians. Without a replenished Global Fund, this essential work would simply not be possible.
Unfortunately, there is a noticeable and disconcerting donor fatigue setting in. However, it is much too soon to let up on our efforts to overcome HIV/AIDS. Last year alone, 2.3 million people were newly infected with HIV – of these people, 260,000 were children. With the advancements in treatment and care, this is simply unconscionable.
The Global Fund needs to raise $15-billion in funding for 2014-16. A full replenishment would result in averting more than 1 million new HIV infections annually through rapid scale-up of treatment. The U.K.'s pledge of $1.5-billion to the Global Fund comes with an important caveat – that the overall $15-billion goal is achieved. This 'strings attached' pledge is intended to encourage other G20 donor countries like Canada to do their part in the global fight against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Along with civil society groups, Dignitas International is asking the Canadian government to make a commitment of at least $750-million over three years. This represents a relatively modest 5 per cent of the total replenishment. An increased Canadian commitment to the Global Fund would save hundreds of thousands of lives and enable us to collectively turn the corner on HIV/AIDS and related diseases.
Why is Canada waiting to announce its commitment? If a strong replenishment is forthcoming, Canada is in a position to play a leadership role and send a clear message to other countries that have yet to come to the table. As Canada seemingly waits for an opportune moment, millions of lives hang in the balance - 18 million to be exact.
This is the number of people who are eligible for HIV treatment but don't have access to medicines. As Canadians, the right to health is integral to our national identity and pride. We now have the chance to tangibly help people in developing countries gain access to life-saving treatment. More than an opportunity, it is a moral obligation.
If there were ever an auspicious moment for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to show Canada's leadership in fighting AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, this would be it.
Now is the moment.
Dr. James Orbinski is a professor and Global Health Research Chair at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Laurier University. Dr. Orbinski is also co-founder of Dignitas International; Marilyn McHarg is president and CEO of Dignitas International.