AIDS activists are pressing the Trudeau government to renew its support for the fight against infectious diseases abroad after an embarrassing conference in Montreal that left the sector worried that Canada is failing.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will attend a donor conference for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in New York.
Canada is one of the biggest supporters of the fund and has pledged $4 billion since 2002.
Countries replenish the fund every three years, with their contributions typically increasing over time as health systems build capacity to treat and prevent these diseases.
Every round, civil society groups release what they call a fair share metric to reflect how much each wealthy country can reasonably commit to helping the fund achieve its goals.
This spring, Canadian activists asked Trudeau to commit $1.2 billion.
Since then, the United States, Germany and Japan have all announced funding in response to requests from local groups.
Elise Legault, Canadian campaign director for ONE, an international non-governmental organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, said less than $1.2 billion would result in preventable deaths.
“Prime Minister Trudeau cannot neglect the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria because it is a fight we can win,” she said.
The fund helps developing countries limit and treat the three preventable diseases that in many regions are among the leading causes of death.
Trudeau has championed the fund in the past, including in 2016 when he spoke alongside Zimbabwean activist Loyce Maturu.
Maturu lost his mother and brother in 2003 to both AIDS and tuberculosis. She contracted both illnesses and says Canada’s contributions funded programs that brought her back to the brink of death. The 30-year-old now plans to have children.
“I would really like to thank the Canadian government for being a traditional donor in the Global Fund, because it has truly saved millions of lives, and I am one of the lives that have been saved,” Maturu said from New York. , where she intends to urge Trudeau to increase Canada’s contribution.
The World Health Organization reported that deaths from tuberculosis rose in 2020 for the first time in more than a decade as governments focused on containing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deaths from malaria follow a similar pattern, while HIV-positive patients have reported interruptions in treatments that prevent the virus from progressing to AIDS.
Maturu said these trends have survivors like her worried about Canada’s reluctance to announce its funding until the last minute.
“It’s really tough, and we’re just keeping our fingers crossed,” she said.
Groups like the ONE campaign have called on the Liberals to reveal Canada’s commitment at the International AIDS 2022 conference in Montreal in July.
The government made no announcement and International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan canceled his appearance at the conference, his office citing “operational problems”.
Ottawa was criticized at the time for not issuing travel visas to HIV experts and advocates from African countries, leading some speakers to accuse Canada of racism. The International AIDS Society said it would reconsider holding future conferences in Canada.
Sajjan’s office said last Friday that another Global Fund commitment is forthcoming, but would not provide details.
“We will continue to support the Global Fund, which is Canada’s single largest investment in global health,” spokesperson Haley Hodgson wrote.
“Minister Sajjan recognizes how critical the Seventh Replenishment of the Global Fund is to achieving our collective global goals of defeating HIV, TB and malaria.
In the fund’s last round of pledges in 2019, the Trudeau government increased its contribution after weeks of sustained pressure. At the time, Ottawa did not dispute rumors that it would stick to the same amount of funding it announced in 2016.
Legault said the fund has made “astonishing progress” towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.
According to UNAIDS, the joint United Nations program on HIV/AIDS, AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 68% since the peak in 2004 and by 52% since 2010.
“Twenty years ago, the headlines about AIDS were terrible; many African countries were so affected that life expectancy was on a downward trend due to the disease, with no end in sight,” Legault said.
“The fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is one of the great unsung successes of the century.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 19, 2022.