James Orbinski

Dr. Orbinski believes in humanitarianism, in citizenship and in actively engaging and shaping the world we live in so that it is more humane, fair and just.

After extensive field experience with Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Somalia, Afghanistan, Rwanda and Zaire, Dr. Orbinski was elected MSF’s international president from 1998 to 2001, and launched its Access to Essential Medicines Campaign in 1999. In 1999 he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to MSF for its pioneering approach to medical humanitarianism, and most especially for its approach to witnessing.

From 2001 to 2004 Dr. Orbinski chaired MSF’ s Neglected Diseases Working Group, which created the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative ( DNDi). The DNDi is a global not-for-profit drug development initiative that develops drugs and other health technologies for diseases largely neglected by profit driven research and development companies. The DNDi was launched in 2003 and now has 20 drugs in development. Its first drug – an anti-malarial – became available in March of 2007.

In 2004 Dr. Orbinski became a research scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital, and in 2005, an associate professor of both medicine and political science at the University of Toronto. One of his co-authored papers on HIV/AIDS treatment adherence was recognized by the Lancet as one of the world’s top 20 medical research papers of 2006.1

Dr. Orbinski practices clinical medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital, University of Toronto, and is part of a team of scholars that is developing a multidisciplinary PhD training program in Global Health, and Global Health Diplomacy. Dr. Orbinski has received many honorary doctorates and awards, including in the Meritorious Service Cross, Canada’s highest civilian award. This citation reads:

 “Chief of Mission to Rwanda with Médecins sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders during the Civil War and genocide from April  to July 1994, Dr. Orbinski provided an extraordinary service by delivering  medical assistance and alleviating the suffering of victims, on both sides  of the front line. Unwavering in his efforts, Dr. Orbinski opened the Agha  Khan (King Fayed) Hospital in Kigali, in the middle of a contested area that  often became the target of mortar and machine gun fire. Through example, he provided inspirational leadership to a multinational team of medical staff  and managed to spur their flagging spirits through the bleakest days of the genocide.”

Dr. Orbinski believes that access to health care and to essential health technologies are critical global health issues today, and most especially for poor people. His research interests are focused on 1) access to medicines and health care, 2) medical humanitarianism in war and social crisis, and 3) global health policy.

Since joining St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto, he is a founder and president of Dignitas International, a hybrid academic NGO focused on community based care, prevention and treatment for people living with HIV in the developing world. Dignitas is now caring for over 10,000 HIV positive patients, and has over 5,000 women, children and men on treatment for AIDS in Malawi. Its focus is on researching, developing and disseminating a prototype of community-based care.

Dr. Orbinski is a founding board member of the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, and the Steven Lewis Foundation. He is board chair of War Child Canada and Dignitas International, and a member of the editorial boards of Open Medicine and Conflict and Health, two new independent, open access on-line medical journals that are committed to the best science and that see health in its larger human and political context.

He has just completed a documentary film on medical humanitarianism, screened at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, titled Triage. He has also just completed a book titled An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarianism in the 21st Century, to be released in April 2008 in Canada, and in September 2008 internationally.

Dr. Orbinski lives in Toronto with his partner and their two boys.

1 (SRA) Edward J. Mills, Jean B. Nachega, Iain Buchan, James Orbinski, Amir Attaran, Sonal Singh, Beth Rachlis, Ping Wu; Curtis Cooper, Lehana Thabane, Kumanan Wilson, Gordon H. Guyatt, MD, David R. Bangsberg. 2006. Adherence to Antiretroviral Therapy in Sub-Saharan Africa and North America: A Meta-analysis. JAMA. 296:679-690. (This paper was voted by the LANCET as one of the world’s top 20 scientific papers of 2006. See: Butcher J. Paper of the year 2006. The Lancet 2007; 369:91 – 92.)