Opinion: Canada must step up again for global health

The world is desperately looking for leadership as we navigate two pandemics at once: AIDS and COVID-19.

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When Martha Clara Nakato lost her mother to AIDS-related complications in Uganda at age five, she never imagined that nine years later, she, too, would test positive for HIV.

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“I remember I collapsed. I had no answers. ‘It’s impossible,’” Martha told her doctor over and over again after receiving her diagnosis.

Decades ago, Martha’s positive result could have been a death sentence. But today, she is alive and well thanks in large part to countries like Canada, businesses and consumers who have improved access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs.

This week, as Montreal hosts the 24th International AIDS Conference, we sound the alarm about the global AIDS crisis and implore Canada to once again step up to support global health and help more people like Martha.

Six years ago, the Trudeau government welcomed the Fifth Global Fund Replenishment Conference in Montreal, which brought together leaders, civil society and grassroots organizers from around the world to secure $12.9 billion in global financing for health. Much has changed since 2016, but the world is desperately searching for leadership as we navigate two pandemics at once: AIDS and COVID-19.

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COVID-19 continues to have a devastating impact on low- and middle-income countries and in the fight against preventable diseases such as AIDS. When the pandemic hit the global fundone of the world’s largest and most effective global health associations, saw declensions in HIV testing, the reach of HIV services, and HIV-positive mothers’ access to medications to prevent mother-to-child transmission.

More than two and a half years after the outbreak, low- and middle-income countries continue to need resources and support to respond to COVID-19, which is not only critical for immunocompromised people, including people living with HIV, but to protect the entire world against future variants.

This year, the Global Fund has launched the increased fundraising effort for public health in history with the goal of raising $18 billion, which will help save a projected 20 million lives and prevent more than 450 million new infections in the coming years. As part of this global effort, the Global Fund needs $1.2 billion from Canada to help get the world back on track to defeat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria as epidemics by 2030.

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We know that Canada is capable of stepping up at this important moment because it has done so before. In recent years, the Trudeau government has assigned An additional $65 million to the Global Fund through the ACT-Accelerator for the procurement and deployment of millions of rapid diagnostic tests for COVID-19, as well as to strengthen health systems. These investments have saved countless lives and helped drive global health for all.

While governments will play a key role in the success of the Global Fund replenishment, businesses and consumers across Canada also have an important role to play. The ONE Campaign and its sister organization, (RED), are making it easier than ever for Canadians to learn more about the global fight against AIDS, speak clear in support of the Global Fund and championing the organization’s life-saving work. Of gaming tournaments to (RED) products and experiences that raise money for the fight against AIDS, there are endless ways to get involved.

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The past four decades in the fight against AIDS have equipped us with the knowledge and tools to defeat this deadly disease. We just need the political will.

This year presents us with a clear choice to invest in fighting preventable disease or squander a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a stronger, more resilient global health system.

Six years ago in Montreal, the world looked to Canada for leadership in global health and it delivered. Once again, the world needs Canada to answer the call and help us end the fight.

Jennifer Lotito is president and chief operating officer of the organization (RED). Elise Legault is the Canadian director of the ONE campaign.

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