A world without poverty is dependent on ambitious global health efforts as poverty is both a cause and consequence of poor health. Poverty can prevent access to healthcare, social services, adequate nutrition, clean water, and proper sanitation. Ultimately, the causes of poor health for millions of people are rooted in political, social, and economic injustices, which is why we work to address both causes and symptoms.
The negative health impacts of poverty are demonstrated by infectious diseases disproportionately affecting lower-income countries. Tuberculosis (TB), AIDS, and diarrhoeal disease are some of the leading causes of death in these regions, while they are largely prevented or rapidly treated in wealthier nations.
The COVID-19 pandemic made these disparities even more clear, as wealthy nations like Canada rapidly acquired and rolled out vaccines, while low-income countries continue to have limited access to the tools needed to control and respond to the pandemic. Learn more about how COVID-19 has impacted our issues.
Good health is a right that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy, which is why we steer our advocacy efforts towards issues that are at risk of being prioritized less or will have the largest impact on poverty eradication and health optimization. With the triple threat of COVID-19, conflict, and climate change undoing years of progress towards achieving health equity related Sustainable Development Goals, our advocacy is now more critical than ever.
Across all our priority issues, we work to shift away from health systems designed around diseases and institutions and towards health systems designed for people with people. We push governments at all levels to underscore the importance of action beyond the health sector to pursue a whole-of government approach to health, including health-in-all-policies and a strong focus on equity and interventions that include the whole person and community.
Before COVID-19, tuberculosis (TB) was the world’s leading infectious disease killer, claiming around 1.4 million lives every year. TB is an airborne infectious disease caused by bacteria that primarily affects the lungs. As a disease that is strongly linked to the social and physical environments that surround people, TB disproportionately affects those living in poverty. The continued existence of TB shows just how persistent inequities are within global health. Even within Canada, TB remains a concern, affecting vulnerable populations like Indigenous and newcomer communities.
As national budgets are diverted, healthcare workers are reassigned, and resources are redirected to address the pandemic, progress toward eradicating TB has been severely disrupted by COVID-19. In fact, 2020 was the first year in over a decade in which TB deaths increased. This setback in TB elimination spotlights the longstanding neglect in addressing this ancient disease.
Inadequate research and development for TB along with outdated treatment and diagnosis options, have hindered our chances of meeting the global 2030 target of ending TB. It has also caused a rise in drug-resistant TB - a significant issue that threatens to reverse decades of progress. Not only does drug-resistant TB result in longer and more dangerous treatment, but multidrug-resistant TB accounts for a third of all antimicrobial resistance-related deaths globally.
The need to scale up efforts to end TB is greater than ever. Addressing the damage caused by COVID-19 is essential to getting back on track to eliminating this disease, reducing the threat of antimicrobial resistance, and preparing for future infectious disease threats.
In just the last 30 years, child deaths have decreased by over 50 per cent, largely thanks to increased access to health services. Interventions like vaccinations and good nutrition are essential for saving lives and protecting from disease and disability. Yet, even before the pandemic, nearly 20 million children missed out on basic childhood vaccines every year, over 13 million received no vaccines at all. Additionally, 45 per cent of all deaths in young children can be attributed to poor nutrition.
Childhood health has experienced major backsliding due to COVID-19. 23 million children missed out on basic childhood vaccines in 2020, the highest number since 2009. The world is also facing an unprecedented malnutrition crisis that threatens children’s health. Without immediate action, an additional 13.6 million children will be wasted with a high risk of death and 3.6 million more will suffer from stunted growth by 2022.
There is an urgent need to protect the health of children and the gains made over the last decades. The world must step up its investments in immunization and nutrition, create a foundation for health and development, and contribute to a positive cycle that lifts individuals, communities, and nations out of poverty.
As the struggle for gender equality continues, much more needs to be done to ensure that women and girls have access to the health services they need to live in dignity and thrive. Around 830 women and adolescent girls still die each day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth and 99 per cent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Additionally, more than 214 million women in LMICs do not have access to modern family planning and one in four girls are married before turning 18.
COVID-19 has exposed existing vulnerabilities and equity disparities, hitting women and girls the hardest. As resources for essential health services have been diverted, households impacted by economic hardship cannot afford basic healthcare. That is how, for example, the pandemic disrupted contraceptive use for about 12 million women with a consequence of nearly 1.4 million unintended pregnancies during 2020 across 115 LMICs. The impact of COVID-19 threatens to grow even larger without urgent action protect the hard-won gains in women and girls’ health.
Canada is a leader in global health, which has been exemplified by its commitment to the global response to COVID-19. Canada was one of few countries in 2021 that made their fair share contribution to the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a collaborative mechanism that accelerates the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.
Prior to the pandemic, Canada demonstrated its legacy as a global health leader through its role as a founding partner and leading donor of global health initiatives like the Global Financing Facility (GFF), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and TB REACH. Canada has also played a historic role in establishing global initiatives to support women and children’s health. Canada spearheaded the Muskoka Initiative in 2010, a G8 policy focusing on investment in maternal, newborn, and child health. Canada’s contribution of CAD$7.3 billion was leveraged by the G8 Summit and then multiplied by the United Nations for a substantial total investment of CAD$40 billion. More recently, Canada made a historic pledge to support the Thrive Agenda, committing CAD$1.4 billion annually starting in 2023 to support women and children’s health and reproductive rights around the world.
Canada’s commitments to global health are grounded in principles of gender equity and the empowerment of women and girls, as outlined by its Feminist International Assistance Policy. The policy includes Canada’s vision for international assistance as eradicating poverty and building a more peaceful, inclusive, and prosperous world, through the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Recognizing the multi-dimensional nature of poverty, the policy works across multiple action areas, including human dignity, equitable economic growth, environment and climate action, inclusive governance, and peace and security.