Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (The Canadian Press)

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

ACT Accelerator supports organizations, health professionals and businesses in their efforts to develop a vaccine

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday that Canada will contribute $300 million towards the international effort to battle COVID-19.

Trudeau announced the new funds in another virtual international fundraiser — this one sponsored by an organization, Global Citizen, that is trying to raise $42.8 billion.

“COVID-19 has changed the lives of people everywhere, and it has highlighted inequalities around the world,” Trudeau said in a recorded address from outside his Rideau Cottage home in Ottawa.

“None of us have been spared from the effects of COVID-19 and none of us can beat it alone.”

Canada will contribute $180 million to address the immediate humanitarian and development impacts of the pandemic, he said.

And Canada will contribute $120 million towards 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.

Trudeau said the pandemic has hit vulnerable populations especially hard and the ACT Accelerator will ensure that when a vaccine is found, it will be able to reach all the people who need it.

“We’re also committed to working with countries around the world on how we can pool procurement efforts to make sure all countries have access to the vaccine,” said Trudeau.

Canadian aid agencies and advocacy groups say the contribution is only a fraction of what is eventually needed to fight the pandemic. It will also to be a challenge to ensure that when a vaccine is developed, it reaches poor countries that don’t have the ability to pay for it.

Julia Anderson, the chief operating officer of the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health, said the ACT Accelerator 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 Saturday 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.

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.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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