Liberal government urged to spend $1.5 billion more to battle COVID-19 abroad

Canada has already promised $850 million in a previous fundraiser that had a target of $11 billion

OTTAWA — Canada is expected to send hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding towards an international effort to develop and fairly distribute an eventual COVID-19 vaccine when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joins a global fundraising effort today.

Trudeau is taking part this morning in another virtual international fundraiser, this one sponsored by the organization, Global Citizen, that is trying to raise $42.8 billion.

The money is to support organizations, health professionals and business in their efforts to develop a vaccine, as well as drug therapies and diagnostic tools to battle the pandemic.

Canada has already promised $850 million in a previous fundraiser that had a target of $11 billion.

Canadian aid agencies and advocacy groups say that whatever the government pledges, it will only be 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.

Global Citizen bills itself as the world’s largest anti-poverty advocacy group, and it is organizing Saturday’s pledging conference as well a star-studded evening concert that is to be livestreamed across the world.

The event is trying to fund 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.

Julia Anderson, the 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,” Anderson said, adding that the ACT is very much a work in progress. “The plane is being built as it is being flown.”

Anderson said whatever Trudeau announces today should only be seen as a “deposit” on future spending. Her group and two anti-poverty organizations — the One Campaign and Results Canada — say Canada 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, the 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, the executive director of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, said his organization will be making a formal submission over the summer to the government 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 agreed 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,” said Moyer.

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.

“The needs around the world are staggering and our investments are crucial to protecting the health and safety of Canadians and the poorest and most vulnerable around the globe. Our global response is part of our domestic response: we will not be safe from COVID-19 in Canada until everyone, everywhere is,” Gould said in an emailed statement to The Canadian Press on Friday.

Gould has also stressed that there can be no rolling back of existing spending, or else there could be new flare-ups of preventable diseases such as tuberculosis, polio and malaria.

“What keeps me up at night is not just the immediate needs of the pandemic, but the collateral damage if we turn our attention away from our core activities,” Gould said Friday.

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