Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced Canada will contribute $300 million toward the international effort to battle COVID-19.
He announced the new funds Saturday morning at another virtual international fundraiser — this one sponsored by an organization, Global Citizen, that is trying to raise $42.8 billion.
Trudeau said Canada will contribute $180 million to address the immediate humanitarian and development impacts of the pandemic, with a focus on essential food security, nutrition and education initiatives.
It will also contribute $120 million toward a new initiative called the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which was created in April by the World Health Organization, the French government, the European Commission and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to ensure equitable access to medical treatments.
The ACT Accelerator supports organizations, health professionals and businesses in their efforts to develop a vaccine, as well as drug therapies and diagnostic tools to battle the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has changed the lives of people everywhere and it has highlighted inequalities around the world,” Trudeau said in a statement to the virtual fundraiser. “We have an opportunity to change that.”
Canadian aid agencies and advocacy groups say the contribution will be only a fraction of what is eventually needed to fight the pandemic and to ensure that when a vaccine is developed, it reaches poor countries that don’t have the ability to pay for it.
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Money to support countries with weak health systems
Global Citizen bills itself as the world’s largest anti-poverty advocacy group. In addition to organizing Saturday’s pledging conference, it’s holding a star-studded evening concert that is to be livestreamed around the world.
Julia Anderson, chief operating officer of the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health, said the ACT is the “robust mechanism” the world needs to co-ordinate the fight against the pandemic while supporting the existing health systems of vulnerable countries.
“It’s shaping up to be hopefully the one-stop shop,” she said, adding that the ACT is very much a work in progress. “The plane is being built as it is being flown.”
Anderson said the money announced by Trudeau should only be seen as a “deposit” on future spending. Her group and two anti-poverty organizations — the One Campaign and Results Canada — say the country should be devoting one per cent of its overall COVID-19 spending programs to international assistance.
They say that would require a boost of at least $1.5 billion to Canada’s foreign-aid budget, which stands at about $5 billion.
Chris Dendys, executive director of Results Canada, said she expected Trudeau to announce a “meaningful investment” but that more will be needed.
“We’ve been calling for Canada to commit at least one per cent of what we’ve spent on COVID within our borders on the global response,” she said.
Nicolas Moyer, executive director of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, said his organization will be making a formal submission to the government over the summer to increase aid spending in the next federal budget. The CCIC, an umbrella group for aid organizations, has not yet formulated how much that increase should be, but Moyer said that the one per cent target suggested by the two advocacy groups was appropriate.
“Canada’s response to the pandemic has been significant at home, and it needs to be matched with global ambition,” he said.
Tackling COVID-19 abroad will keep Canadians safe: minister
The aid agencies and anti-poverty groups are crediting International Development Minister Karina Gould for being one of the strongest advocates they have seen for their sector around the federal cabinet table.
“We are happy to see Minister Gould pushing for more investment because more is desperately needed,” said Stuart Hickox, the Canadian director of the One Campaign.
“There is an immediate two-part need for investment to address the humanitarian crisis and make sure tests, treatments and eventually a vaccine are available everywhere.”
In past interviews, Gould has repeatedly stressed that Canadians’ safety is linked to the success of stamping out COVID-19 abroad.
“COVID-19 is a threat that does not recognize borders and will only be overcome through co-ordinated action,” she said in a press release on Saturday. “Our global response is part of our domestic response: we will not be safe from COVID-19 in Canada until everyone, everywhere is.”