OTTAWA — AIDS activists are pressuring Justin Trudeau’s government to renew its support for the fight against infectious diseases around the world after an embarrassing conference in Montreal that left speakers rather worried. .
Prime Minister Trudeau is due to attend a donor conference for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in New York on Wednesday. Canada, one of the Fund’s biggest supporters, has pledged $4 billion since 2002.
Donor countries replenish this fund every three years; their contributions generally increase over time as health systems build capacity to treat and prevent these diseases. And each three-year cycle, civil society groups publish the amount they think would be fair to reflect what each wealthy country can reasonably commit to contributing to the Fund to meet its goals.
Thus, Canadian activists asked Mr. Trudeau last spring to commit $1.2 billion this time around. Since then, the United States, Germany and Japan have all announced funding in response to requests from their national groups. But Ottawa still hasn’t revealed anything.
Élise Legault, Canadian campaign director for ONE, an international non-governmental organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, said a contribution of less than $1.2 billion would result in deaths that could otherwise to avoid.
“Prime Minister Trudeau cannot neglect the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, because it is a fight that we can win,” she pleaded.
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.
Ms. Maturu lost her mother and brother in 2003 to AIDS and tuberculosis. She contracted both illnesses herself, and says Canada’s contributions funded programs that allowed her to narrowly escape certain 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 those lives that has been saved,” Ms. Maturu said since New York, where she intends to pressure Mr. Trudeau to increase Canada’s contribution.
“We cross fingers”
The World Health Organization reported that for the first time in more than a decade, deaths from tuberculosis increased in 2020, as governments focused on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deaths from malaria follow a similar pattern, while HIV-positive patients are observed to discontinue their treatments which prevent the virus from progressing to AIDS.
Maturu says these trends are worrying survivors like her about Canada’s reluctance to announce its funding. “It’s really tough, fingers crossed,” she said.
Organizations like the ONE campaign called on the Liberal government to unveil Canada’s commitment at the International AIDS Conference in July in Montreal. The government did not make this announcement and the Minister for International Development, Harjit Sajjan, even canceled his participation in the international conference, his cabinet citing “operational problems”.
Ottawa was harshly criticized then for not issuing visas to experts and activists from African countries, which led some participants to accuse Canada of racism. The International AIDS Society has even declared that it will reconsider in the future the advisability of organizing such conferences in Canada.
Minister Sajjan’s office said last Friday that another Global Fund commitment is forthcoming, without providing further 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 Global Fund Replenishment Conference is to achieving our collective global goals to defeat 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.
Ms. Legault says the Fund has made “astonishing progress” towards the UN’s goal of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030. According to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV /AIDS, deaths related to this disease have decreased by 68% since the peak in 2004, and by 52% since 2010.
“Twenty years ago, the headlines on AIDS were terrible,” recalls Ms. Legault. Many African countries have been so affected that life expectancy has been on a downward trend due to the disease, with no hope on the horizon.
“The fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is one of the great unsung success stories of the century,” she says.