Stephen Lewis, groups call on Ottawa to show AIDS leadership

Stephen Lewis and a group of social development, anti-poverty and AIDS services organization have called on Canada to show more leadership in the global fight against HIV-AIDS.

Stephen Lewis and a group of social development, anti-poverty and AIDS services organization have called on Canada to show more leadership in the globalfight against HIV-AIDS.

They unveileda four-point plan in Toronto on Wednesday, just days before the 16th International AIDS Conference, to be heldin the city from Aug. 13 to 18.

Lewis, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for HIV-AIDS in Africa and a former leader of Ontario's New Democratic Party, called the campaign a direct challenge.

He said they wantOttawa to take a stand,rather than lapse into the "amorphous banalities and irrelevance to which the Canadian government seemed so severely addicted."

The groups called on Canada to:

  • Commit to a timetable to bring its development assistance up to 0.7 per cent of its gross national income.
  • Contribute five per cent of the funding needed by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria over each of the next five years.
  • Put money into the public health care systems of developing countries.
  • Cancel the debt of developing countries to free up money to fight AIDS and poverty.

Nocheap drugs sent despite Ottawa's pledge

They also urged the government to follow through on an earlier commitment passed by Parliament in 2004 that allows the export of lower-cost, generic drugs to developing countries.

Joanne Csete, the executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said no medicines have yet been sent.

"The federal government has a crucial role to play in brokering meetings between Canada's generic drug manufacturers and officials in developing countries to see that the deals get made…," she said.

Garry Barr, the co-chair of the Make Poverty History Campaign, urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to pay close attention to messages coming out of the upcoming AIDS conference.

"Poverty fuels the AIDS pandemic. It makes millions even more poor," he said.

PM's decision not to attend criticized

Harper's decision not to attend the opening of the conferencehas beendrawing criticism from some delegates.

The federal government will be represented at the conference by Health Minister Tony Clement andMinister of International Co-operation Josée Verner.

Louise Binder, who co-chairs the federal ministerial advisory council on AIDS, said she is disappointed with Harper.

"It's not a political matter for me," she said.

"This is the most serious health problem the globe has ever seen, and we're hosting the largest conference with the most media that's ever been and our prime minister can't come and say a few words of welcome."

Richard Elliott of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, an internationally recognized think-tank, shared the view.

"I think [Harper's decision not to attend] sends a very poor message about the level of commitment of the Government of Canada to dealing with this epidemic," he said.

Binder and Elliott said Harper's absence will not go unnoticed when the conference opens and have warned the government to expect some backlash.

The 16th edition of the biennial International AIDS Conference will be attended by about20,000 participants, including scientists, health-care providers, political leaders,government andnon-governmental officials. Media and people living with HIV/AIDS are also expected to attend.

This is the third time the conference has been held in Canada. It was held in Montreal in 1989 and in Vancouver in 1996.

In 1989, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney attended the event in Quebec, but seven years later,Prime Minister Jean Chrétien did not go to Vancouver.

Gates promises millions for AIDS care, research

Also on Wednesday, the foundation of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife promised a $500-million US for AIDS assistance in poor countries.

The Billand Melinda Gates Foundation said it contributed the money to the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria over the next five years.

The new donation tops the $150 million US gift that the Gates's foundation has contributed to the fund over past four years, and the $287 million US pledged in July to help develop an AIDS vaccine.

"The fund has an excellent track record, and we need to do everything we can to support its continued success, which will save millions of lives," Bill Gates said in a statement.

Bill and Melinda Gates are scheduled to be keynote speakers at the official opening of the conference.