Canada’s hosting of the Global Fund Fifth Replenishment Conference in Montreal this weekend marks a significant uptick in country’s role in the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been personally engaged with planning the conference — part of a broader push to elevate Canada’s leadership role in international development.
“This is the first time that a head of state has really championed the Global Fund in its replenishment process to the degree that the government certainly has, and the Trudeau government in particular,” said Robin Montgomery, executive director of the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development, a group of about 100 Canadian organizations working to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Canada’s renewed leadership will focus on reaching vulnerable populations. In addition to refilling the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria’s coffers with a requested $13 billion for 2017 to 2019, Canada will prioritize discussions about how to best reach women and girls, indigenous people, and LGBTQ populations.
“Canada’s leadership around global health aims to reach the poorest and most vulnerable, especially women and girls,” Canada’s minister of international development and Francophonie, Marie-Claude Bibeau, said ahead of the conference. “By focusing our efforts to improve the lives of those who are often forgotten or left behind, like adolescent girls, we can help end AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria for good.”
The government has announced a pledge of $594 million to the Global Fund over the next three years, a 20 percent increase from the current funding cycle. Canadian civil society organizations working in global health are confident the overall pledging goal will be reached.
A hand in the planning
The Trudeau government has taken an active role in preparing for the replenishment, reaching out to NGOs and civil society, as well as other donor and aid recipient countries.
Devex previously reported apparent discussions between Trudeau and new U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, in which the Canadian prime minister advocated for a strong contribution.
Trudeau has highlighted the role of African leaders and will hold a working luncheon on Friday with the delegates attending from the continent. Among topics expected to be discussed will be some African countries new roles as donors to the Global Fund; Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is scheduled to attend the conference, has pledged $4.9 million. The meeting will also discuss how to support countries transitioning out of Global Fund programing and grants.
The CSO leaders Devex who spoke to said the government had also taken steps to engage with the broader development community, inviting them to give input on the conference’s draft program and communications strategy in the lead-up to the conference. Several meetings were held in which CSOs had the opportunity to ask questions about the government’s strategy toward reaching women and girls, and its commitment to building evidence-based policies and programs, they said. Those discussions will continue with a side event on Friday morning, in which Bibeau will host Canadian CSOs to reflect on lessons learned from the fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.
“There's been a real sense that this government values our expertise and our input,” Helen Scott, executive director of the Canadian Network for Newborn, Maternal and Child Health, told Devex. “We're very optimistic that we're going to be able to work together with this government in a true partnership.”
Women and girls
Women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, are expected to be at the center of the conference, echoing a broader shift in Canada’s global health programming. Special attention will be placed on the plight of adolescent girls, who are especially at risk of getting infected by the diseases, and on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“What we've seen from the Global Fund recently is really a new human rights angle that is meant to address the most vulnerable populations,” Plan International Canada CEO Caroline Riseboro told Devex. Plan International Canada is one of the country’s only NGOs working as an implementing partner with the Global Fund.
Canada has been a strong supporter of the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Political Declaration on Ending AIDS and of UNAIDS’s strategy for 2016-2021, which both highlight the need to reach out to women and girls as well as marginalized populations, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
“What we really want to see is Canada continuing to champion girls and the most marginalized populations” at the conference, Riseboro said. “Specifically, we’d like to see Canada take a much more gender-transformative approach as opposed to just a gender-sensitive approach,” she said. Such a shift would require programming that challenges the social and cultural norms that increase female vulnerability, she added.
The government’s recent efforts to promote the rights of indigenous people and LGBTQ populations are also likely to be reflected in the conference’s agenda.
In May, the country ended its decadelong status as an objector and signed the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, part of a long reconciliation process that Trudeau vowed to engage in during his electoral campaign. Over the summer, the prime minister attended no less than three gay pride parades in various Canadian cities, and is set to issue a formal apology later this fall for the historical persecution of gay Canadians by the government.
Signs to watch
Beyond its ability to reach its pledging goal, the conference’s success will be measured in Canada’s ability to bring together a variety of partners, from donor and recipient countries to CSOs, members of the private sector and research institutions to set a clear agenda for the fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. Side events that have been organized around the conference will aim to foster dialogue between these various actors.
Flavie Halais is a freelance journalist based in Montreal who covers cities and international social issues. In 2013-2014, Flavie was an Aga Khan Foundation Canada International Fellow, reporting for Nation Media Group in Nairobi, Kenya. She’s also reported from Rwanda, Brazil and Colombia.
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