Activists calling on Canada to pay their fair share to the Global Fund

Federal underfunding to HIV/AIDS organizations is estimated to be over $123 million—people want that to change

The fight against COVID-19 has taken the world’s attention away from existing diseases, like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and funding to keep progress on eliminating those diseases has taken a hit in recent years. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria was set to hold a replenishment conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, which prime minister Justin Trudeau was set to attend, before the death of Queen Elizabeth II derailed plans for many world leaders. The conference has been rescheduled for September 21.

ONE, a global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030, has been leading the local campaign to call on the federal government to ensure that Canada’s replenishment pledge to the fund is at the “fair share” level of $1.2 billion. They caution the government against “rainbow washing” their international development commitments, particularly to eliminating AIDS, while they underfund programs. Domestically, this has been the case, where federal underfunding to HIV/AIDS organizations nationally is estimated to be over $123 million.

“Germany and Japan have already stepped up and hit their fair share threshold,” says Justin McAuley, Canada spokesperson for ONE. “The U.S. has a matching fund set up so that if all of the other countries meet [their thresholds] then all of the money that they’re putting on the table is able to take care of it. They have already pledged that amount, but they can’t do it if other countries don’t step up as well.”

The Global Fund is looking for $18 billion to get back on track in this replenishment. The vast majority of that will go toward the global AIDS crisis, with another percentage earmarked for tuberculosis—something that kills a lot of HIV-positive people, particularly in Africa—and the smaller percentage goes toward malaria.

After the last federal election, a new minister was assigned to the portfolio of international development—Harjit Sajjan, who had previously been on the national defence file. Elise Legault, Canada Director for ONE, says that Sajjan clearly cares about international development.

“He has reacted quickly to new humanitarian crises arising like the food crisis hitting many developing countries following the war in Ukraine,” Legault says. “Canada stepped up for trusted partners like the World Food Programme to try and avoid the one of the worst famines we could see in recent times, but the harsh reality we face is that we are seeing multiple crises converge.”

Legault says progress on issues like HIV/AIDS and malaria has stalled or gone backward because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as governments are juggling a lot of issues. She says she hopes that Sajjan made the case for increased development aid at last week’s cabinet retreat in Vancouver.


“The world needs Canada more than ever,” Legault says. “International development and foreign affairs need strong voices at the cabinet table.”

While the Trudeau government likes to tout its “feminist” international development policy, Legault says that the message is not always clear.

“One of the issues that affect women and girls in Africa in particular is the HIV/AIDS crisis,” Legault says. “No ministers from the federal government showed up at the opening of the International AIDS Conference in Montreal in July, and it did not go unnoticed. There is a chance to make a better impression—we want the government to not be all talk.”

Legault says that the replenishment conference is a chance for the Trudeau government to correct that mistake.

“We need to finish the fight against these still deadly but preventable and treatable diseases, and we can’t shortchange the commitment,” Legault says. “We want to see action, and the right funding to back their commitments.”

In 2019, the federal government told AIDS organizations in the development sector that they would be making a flat pledge with no increase. McAuley notes that the queer communities in Canada rallied heavily against that and forced Trudeau’s hand, particularly after a number of events at Montreal Pride.

“That got attention,” McAuley says. “At the last minute before Montreal Pride, we got a call from the government saying we hear you, Canadians want us to fix this, and they committed to doing what was asked of them.”

McAuley says this only happened because queer communities alongside the AIDS community and global activists to ensure that their case was heard, and that the political ramifications were felt, particularly as it was shortly before an election.

This year, ONE has put out a national campaign including a video featuring drag queens from across the country, calling on Trudeau to make his fair share commitment, and not to be a “fake friend” to the LGBTQ2S+ communities.

“The community stepped up in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa this year,” McAuley says. “It’s not just about us, it’s not just about the domestic AIDS crisis—we’re standing in solidarity with our queer brothers and sisters around the world on this one.”

One of the dangers of any government pledge is ensuring that the money is new and not simply recycled from an existing commitment. Legault says that because the Global Fund has been very involved with the fight against COVID, providing testing, treatment and personal protective equipment.

“The government in the past has made commitments through the ACT-Accelerator, an initiative that was overseeing vaccines, tests and treatments for COVID, and the Global Fund was part of that,” Legault says. “There is a potential risk that the government could re-announce for the Global Fund funds that should be going to fight the COVID pandemic, which is still important, but the replenishment is about fighting these three other diseases that we don’t want to lose sight of.”

McAuley emphasizes that this is not just a dollars-and-cents issue, and that it’s not program spending for organizations, but the fair share is about people’s lives.

Minister Sajjan’s office remains tight-lipped about what their commitment will be, and whether it will meet the “fair share” of $1.2 billion.

“Canada is a long-standing supporter of the Global Fund, contributing over $3.9 billion since its inception, helping to save 50 million lives,” says Haley Hodgson, spokesperson for Minister Sajjan, in an emailed response. “We will continue to support the Global Fund, which is Canada’s largest investment in global health. Minister Sajjan recognizes how critical the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment is for achieving our collective global goals to defeat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. We will share details about Canada’s pledge in due course.”

Dale Smith is a freelance journalist in the Parliamentary Press Gallery and author of The Unbroken Machine: Canada's Democracy in Action.

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Health, Power, Politics, News, Canada, HIV/AIDS

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