Politics

'This organization saves lives': Trudeau tells Global Fund donors

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is hosting to a lengthy list of global health experts, wealthy donors and decision-makers at the Global Fund, a two-day summit aimed at stamping out three of the world’s worst infectious diseases.

Conference aims to raise $13B to fight HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in developing countries

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the conference on eradicating malaria AIDS and tuberculosis in Montreal Friday 2:13

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in Montreal today, playing host to a lengthy list of global health experts, wealthy donors and decision-makers at a two-day summit aimed at stamping out three of the world's worst infectious diseases.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was started in 2002 with the goal of getting governments, civil society and private donors to work together to fight the big three infectious diseases.

"This organization saves lives. Lives that would have otherwise been lost to AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria," Trudeau said.

In May, the Canadian government pledged $785 million from 2017 to 2019 for the Global Fund, a 20 per cent increase from its previous commitment.

Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau committed another $19 million to a purchasing platform for health supplies in developing countries later that month. Trudeau said he hopes those pledges provide an example to others at the Montreal conference.

Trudeau is hosting the replenishment conference to help to raise $13 billion that will help save an estimated eight million lives while preventing 300 million new infections by 2019.

"Gone are the days of isolationism," Trudeau said. "The Global Fund is a great example of what can happen when we collaborate in pursuit of a larger goal."

The final total will be released on Saturday, which is the last day of the conference..

The Montreal meeting is attracting a long list of wealthy donors and decision-makers — from Bill and Melinda Gates to Bono to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Global Fund spokesman Seth Faison said that celebrity attention helps the fund connect with partners — both to raise money and connect with on-the-ground experts who can provide effective care and prevention to people who need it.

"When Bono speaks, people listen. When Prime Minister Trudeau speaks, people listen," he said. "These are the partners we need."

Spotlight on global epidemics

Fasion said while diseases like Zika and Ebola have grabbed headlines in recent years, there are still major health gains to be made by fighting the less novel diseases.

"AIDS, TB and malaria are not in the news so much because they're not as dramatic and they're not as scary … we're familiar with them already," he said.

"But they're much larger. The stakes are huge. These three diseases are affecting millions of people every year. Zika and Ebola are scary, but they're still only affecting in the thousands and we hope it stays that way."

Number of lives saved through Global Fund-supported programs (Natalie Holdway)

The fund pays for 75 per cent of the medications for those diseases and has saved an estimated 20 million lives, according to Global Affairs Canada.

Trudeau said health-care work of the Global Fund is also important to advancing equality of opportunity and health for women and girls.

"Whether we're tackling poverty or hunger, or promoting equality for women and girls around the world, we succeed by working as true partners. And this fight is no different," he said.

"We know that poverty is sexist. Our societies cannot succeed without the full participation of women and girls."

Annual cost of antiretroviral drugs to treat one person with HIV (Natalie Holdway)

One of the Global Fund's major goals has been to reduce the cost of antiretroviral drugs, through bulk-buying deals and reforms to intellectual property rules that delay the manufacture of generic drugs.

Bibeau said the government considers the Global Fund a platform to address the high cost of life-saving drugs.

"I know that some organizations are really working closely with pharmaceutical companies to get medicines at a cheaper price," Bibeau said. "And some of them are very open to contribute and to do their part to face very difficult conflicts."

Bibeau said Canada is looking " to refocus international assistance on the poorest, most vulnerable and fragile states."

Going further

Secretary-General of La Francophonie Michaëlle Jean told the conference that while the collection of pledges with the goal of ending the epidemic status of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria by 2030 is noble, there is more work to do over the long-term.

"A humanitarian approach will never completely deal with the issues because health and development are undissociable," she said in French.

"Let's invest in professionalizing people. Let's invest in entrepreneurship, in the economic driver of these countries. Supporting women, supporting the working environment of those countries."

The NDP's foreign affairs critic, Hélène Laverdière, is also attending the conference, where she called for a boost to Canada's foreign aid budget from the current level of 0.28 per cent of gross national product to the UN target of 0.7 per cent.

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