If you work in global health, Canada is probably the place to be at the moment. As a new resident of Canada, working towards a PhD in global health, the new academic year has already ushered in events of significance to the health and development sector. Canadian Prime Minister’s (Justin for the friends) efforts to (re-)establish Canada’s position in the world, and towards improving global health and development issues continue this weekend as Canada hosts the Fifth Replenishment Conference of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Montréal, Québec, on 16-17 September 2016. This time, the Fund aims to mobilise US$13billion between 2017-19, towards saving 8 million lives and averting 300 million new infections by 2020.
On the eve of the Replenishment, McGill University hosted a pre-conference to celebrate Canada’s renewed commitment towards global health and development. The event, in a packed hall, brought together a high level panel including Canada’s Minister of Health, Jane Philpott; Mark Dybul (well-known to IHP readers, we reckon); Peter Singer, Chief Executive Officer, Grand Challenges Canada; Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director, Stop TB Partnership and eminent McGill faculty members.
Snapshots from the event:
With her opening remarks, Jane Philpott already set the scene when she said infections are not statistics and deaths aren’t dry data. She didn’t mince her words, “this is about human lives, people with eyes and faces and we have to treat them the way we should, as human beings”. She also described these deaths as outrageous, particularly as humanity today has the means to solve them.
Some solutions towards improving health outcomes were presented. Some key steps were highlighted, these included collaborating towards investing in research, working with vulnerable people to address equity, access and human rights, and last but not least, generating “political will”. The last one is probably the hardest, especially in the current international environment.
Everybody emphasized there is no magic bullet and real life processes are complex. It is essential to translate data and clinical trials into public health programmes. It is also vital to promote local innovation to address local needs, collaborating with district officials, civil society and communities. Health systems strengthening is also key to improve supply chain delivery , and service quality, collection of data – all towards a more resilient and sustainable response to health challenges.
The panel also reiterated the Canadian government’s focus on ending tuberculosis, HIV and malaria by reaching out to the vulnerable, the poorest and ending discrimination, stigma and associated fear. To achieve this, the panel highlighted that countries will need to invest in technological innovation with social integration, invest in gender equality to empower women and young girls and most importantly, identify youth as change agents acting as “propellants” for future generations.
Social determinants and equity were at the heart of the event, and deservedly so. Mark Dybul put it nicely, “To end these diseases we must become better humans”. A tall order, yes, but there is no other way. Or in the words of South Africa’s Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoalendi, “Above all it’s about social justice and solidarity and providing universal access to care”.
As the Global Fund replenishment kicks off in this great city, various panels will focus on empowering girls, the most marginalized (including the LGBT community) and engaging with the youth towards the sustainable development goals and the GF disease targets in particular. The (now ongoing) events will be interesting to follow, and hopefully the money will follow too! I’m also very much looking forward to the Global Citizen concert tomorrow evening, an event that will certainly celebrate Canada’s renewed commitment to international aid and the Global Fund with a bang.
Yes, the Global Fund needs billions and with many others we are hopeful that the US$13 billion goal will be reached by Saturday, despite the challenges of the global environment. But as MSF’s Joanne Liu puts it, the global health community can show that the SDGs are not just empty promises. So we hope that Canada’s leadership will be followed by many other governments.
Still, the panelists reminded us that in the end it is not about the billions, but about human lives. The Global Fund can help these people to live lives with dignity and respect, like all of us. Which is why the Fund needs our support.