Trudeau faces mounting pressure to comply with UN Global Fund request

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In each cycle, civil society groups issue what they call a fair share metric to reflect how much each rich country can reasonably pledge to help the fund achieve its goals.

This spring, Canadian advocates asked Trudeau to commit $1.2 billion.

Since then, the US, Germany and Japan have announced funds that met requests from local groups.

Elise Legault, Canada director at the ONE Campaign, an international non-governmental organization fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease, said anything less than $1.2 billion would lead to preventable deaths.

“Prime Minister Trudeau cannot undermine the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, because this is a fight we can win,” he said.

The fund helps developing countries limit and treat the three preventable diseases, which in many regions are among the leading causes of death.

Trudeau has defended the fund in the past, including in 2016 when he spoke alongside Zimbabwean activist Loyce Maturu.

Maturu lost her mother and brother in 2003 to AIDS and tuberculosis. She contracted both illnesses and says contributions from Canada funded programs that saved her from 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 within the Global Fund because it has really saved millions of lives, and I am one of the lives that has been saved,” Maturu said from New York City, where she plans to press to Trudeau to boost Canada’s contribution.

The World Health Organization reported that tuberculosis deaths increased in 2020 for the first time in more than a decade, as governments focused on containing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Malaria deaths follow a similar pattern, while HIV patients have reported interruptions in treatments that prevent the virus from progressing to AIDS.

Maturu said those trends have survivors like her nervous about Canada’s reluctance to announce its funding until the last minute.

“It’s very difficult, and we cross our fingers,” he said.

Groups such as the ONE Campaign called on Liberals to reveal Canada’s pledge 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 pledge was forthcoming, but gave no details.

“We will continue to support the Global Fund, which is Canada’s largest investment in global health,” spokeswoman Haley Hodgson wrote.

“Minister Sajjan recognizes how important the Seventh Global Fund Replenishment is to achieving our collective global goals to defeat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.”

During the fund’s last pledging round in 2019, the Trudeau government increased its contribution after weeks of sustained pressure. At the time, Ottawa did not dispute rumors that it would keep the same amount of funding as it had announced in 2016.

Legault said the fund has made “amazing progress” towards the UN 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 dire; many African countries were so affected that life expectancy trended down due to the disease, with no end in sight,” Legault said.

“The fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is one of the great anonymous successes of the century.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 19, 2022.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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