James Orbinski


An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-first Century

Date: Friday, November 7
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre -- 3800 - 33rd Street, Vernon

Dr. James 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), Dr. Orbinski was elected as its’ international president from 1998 to 2001. He launched its Access to Essential Medicines Campaign in 1999. In 1999 Dr. Orbinski accepted the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to MSF for its pioneering approach to medical humanitarianism, and most especially for its approach to witnessing.

Dr. Orbinski worked as MSF’s Head of Mission in Goma, Zaire in 1996-97 during the refugee crisis. He was MSF’s Head of Mission in Kigali during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and MSF’s medical co-ordinator in Jalalabad, Afghanistan in the winter of 1994. He was MSF's medical co-ordinator in Baidoa, Somalia during the civil war and famine of 1992-1993. Dr. Orbinski’s first MSF mission was in Peru in 1992.

As international president of MSF, Dr. Orbinski represented the organization in numerous humanitarian emergencies and on critical humanitarian issues in for example, the Sudan, Kosovo, Russia, Cambodia, South Africa, India and Thailand. He has also represented MSF to the UN Security Council, to many national parliaments, and to for example, the WHO, and the UNHCR.

From 2001 to 2004 Dr. Orbinski chaired MSF' s Neglected Diseases Working Group, which created the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi). Launched in 2003, 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 now has 20 drugs in development. Its first drug – an anti-malarial – became available in March of 2007.

In 2003 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, and cited by former US president Bill Clinton as the “nail in the coffin on discrimination in Africa.”

Dr. Orbinski practices clinical medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital (on a one year leave for 2006-7), University of Toronto, and is part of a team of scholars that is developing a multidisciplinary PhD training program in Global Health. He is also a Senior Fellow at The Centre for International Health, at Massey College, and at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Orbinski received his MD degree from McMaster University in 1990, and held a Medical Research Council of Canada fellowship to study paediatric HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa. He has also worked as an international health consultant for the Canadian Public Health Association in Zambia, and for Street Kids International in Brazil. He completed a Masters degree in international relations at the University of Toronto in 1998 before becoming international president of MSF.

Dr. Orbinski has received many honorary doctorates and awards, including in 1997 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 focus 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 Non Government Organization launched to provide and research community based care, prevention and treatment for people living with HIV in the developing world. Dignitas is now caring for over 8000 HIV positive patients, and has over 2000 women, children and men on treatment for AIDS in Malawi. It has trained hundreds of healthcare staff and community based care workers. 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, the Steven Lewis Foundation and Canadian Doctors for Medicare. He is board chair of War Child Canada and Dignitas International.

Dr. Orbinski is a founding editorial board member for both Open Medicine and Conflict and Health, two new independent, open access on-line medical journals that are committed to the best science, and that frame health in its human and political context.

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

Last reviewed shim8/5/2014 4:04:01 PM

inspired. informed. insightful.


Chris Guenard
Digital Channels Communications Coordinator

Tel: 250-807-9932
E: chris.guenard@ubc.ca