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Canada pledges $785M to fight AIDS, TB, malaria; hosting Global Fund conference

Last Updated May 9, 2016 at 6:20 pm EDT

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during an event on AIDS and malaria prevention in Ottawa on Monday, May 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – The phrase “Canada is back” echoed across an Ottawa conference hall Monday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will host a fundraiser for the Global Fund, and donate $785 million over a two-year period to battle AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

While Trudeau didn’t mouth the words himself, the theme first spoken by the prime minister upon his Liberal government’s election victory in October was picked up by the beneficiaries in the room.

“‘Canada is back’ is tangible, measurable and meaningful,” Stuart Hickox, the Canadian director of the ONE Campaign, said of the 20-per-cent increase in Canada’s commitment to the Global Fund for the 2017-2019 period, recalling the comment made by Trudeau about Canada’s role on the international stage.

The ONE Campaign is an organization co-founded by U2 lead singer Bono in 2004, which works to promote maternal and child health projects in Africa and elsewhere.

It is seen as complementary to the Global Fund, which raises an estimated $4 billion US every year as the world’s main funding body in the fight to prevent and treat malaria, HIV and tuberculosis.

Bono’s visit to Ottawa last year when Stephen Harper was still in power re-ignited a political debate over the Conservative government’s development policy, which won praise from the World Health Organization for focusing on maternal and child health. But the Tories were also criticized for freezing overall development spending.

The Liberal budget in March provided little encouragement on international development, committing to increase foreign aid spending by $256 million over two years — an amount some critics characterized as peanuts in relation to the document’s other spending plans.

But at the town hall-style event on Monday, Trudeau said Canada will “lead by example,” and host the Global Fund’s fifth fundraising conference Sept. 16 in Montreal.

The last such conference was hosted by President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. in 2013.

“We are honoured to continue that important work,” Trudeau said.

He also announced a social media campaign to raise awareness among young people about the three diseases.

“The commitments we’ve announced today will help vulnerable citizens live better lives,” he added. “Lives that are longer, healthier, and free from the burden of disease.”

Trudeau was joined at Monday’s announcement by Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who said while much has been done to eradicate disease over the past decades, much more needs to be accomplished — particularly through the empowerment of women and girls, who are most affected by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

“The truth is, the world doesn’t treat all lives as if they have equal value,” Gates said.

“If we can reach women and girls, what they do is lift their family up,” she said.

Responding to a question from the audience about narrowing the gender gap, Trudeau said the government’s role in eradicate diseases isn’t just about medications.

“It’s also about … reducing the inequalities that exist within communities and societies.”

“Empowering women is at the heart of what the Global Fund must do,” he said.

Global Fund executive director Mark Dybul praised Trudeau for demonstrating outstanding leadership in global health and development.

“Prime Minister Trudeau’s insight and the commitment of his government to global partnership and co-operation can translate into saving millions of lives and creating opportunity and prosperity for countless more.”

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