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Today is World AIDS Day. Over 450,000 people will die of HIV/AIDS over the course of this federal election campaign. Most of the deaths will be in Africa. And yet not one cheap pill has been shipped from Canada.

To stem this terrible tide, the United Nations has declared Dec. 1 an international day of awareness and action to mobilize in the fight against HIV-AIDS. “Keep the promise” is the day’s global call. Hopefully, Paul Martin is listening. But so far, there’s little to prove that he is. In the case of Martin’s Liberal government, it’s another case of “promises not kept”.

About 3.1 million people will die this year of HIV/AIDS. About 570,000 of them are children. Roughly 2.4 million of them are in Africa. Almost 5 million people have become newly infected with HIV this year, equivalent to the entire population of greater Toronto.

The UN reports that HIV diagnosis has increased 20 per cent in the last five years. About 40 million people are infected worldwide. The UN also noted an alarming rise in infection rates among youth in Canada.

The Liberal government has already committed to increase the production and distribution of cheaper generic drugs to Africa. But so far, not one cheap pill has been shipped.


Martin’s government is also failing on the international trade front. It should be vigorously campaigning to rein in pharmaceutical patents that keep drug prices artificially high, access low and profits fat. And it should promote the right of all countries to exempt their health systems from trade rules.

But there is no sign that the government is taking these basic steps. In fact, the Liberal government’s position is to open up trade in health-related services.


On top of all this, Canada’s overseas development assistance funding is still below par in comparison to many European countries. The Martin Liberals have yet to reach the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI), a commitment that was made many years ago. Even Martin’s erstwhile friend, the rock star-activist Bono, bashed the PM for this failure when Bono’s band U2 played in Ottawa last week.

The Canadian Council for International Cooperation is calling for a 15 per cent increase in aid until the year 2015. This would bring Canada to the 0.7 target. The NDP budget bill added $250 million in development assistance for the 2006/07 year. The federal government would only have to add an extra $5 million next year and $300 million in 2007/08 to get on track. This is a fraction of the amounts promised in corporate tax cuts.

This must be untied aid, not public subsidies to Canadian corporations to pursue market opportunities or public private partnerships (P3s). A pledge to meet these development commitments must not be used as a cynical excuse for privatization.

On World AIDS Day, and Day Two of the election, Martin’s Liberals have some explaining to do.