Dr. Orbinski is a globally recognized humanitarian practitioner and advocate, as well as one of the world’s leading scholars and scientists in global health. He believes in humanitarianism, in citizenship and in actively engaging and shaping the world in which we live, 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 MSF’s international president from 1998 to 2001. He launched its Access to Essential Medicines Campaign in 1999, and in that same year 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.
For his leadership in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, Dr. Orbinski was awarded 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.”
As international president of MSF, Dr. Orbinski represented the organization in numerous humanitarian emergencies and on critical humanitarian issues in among others, the Sudan, Kosovo, Russia, Cambodia, South Africa, India and Thailand. He has also represented MSF at the UN Security Council, in many national parliaments, and to for example, the WHO, and the UNHCR.
From 2001 to 2004 Dr. Orbinski co-chaired MSF’ s Neglected Diseases Working Group, which created and launched the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi). The DNDi is a global not-for-profit drug development organization that develops medicines and other health technologies for diseases largely neglected by profit driven research and development companies. The DNDi is a partnership of the Pasteur Institute, MSF, and the medical research councils of India, Brazil, Malaysia and a consortium of fifteen African medical research institutions. It now has 17 drugs in development. Its first two drugs – both anti-malarials – were released in 2007 and 2008. A treatment for African Sleeping Sickness will be released in 2010.
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 world’s leading medical journal The Lancet, as among the 20 most significant medical research papers in the world for 2006.[i] Another of his co-authored papers, appearing in the Lancet in 2002 and analysing the lack of research for neglected diseases, is recognized as “one of the most important scholarly articles that shaped scholarship in the field of global health in the post Second World War years”.
Dr. Orbinski practices clinical medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital, University of Toronto, and is part of a team of scholars that has launched a multidisciplinary PhD training program in Global Health. He is also a Senior Fellow at the University of Toronto’s Massey College, and at the Munk Centre for International Studies where he is focusing on Global Health and international affairs. 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 completed a Masters degree in international relations at the University of Toronto in 1998 before being elected international president of MSF.
Dr. Orbinski believes that access to health care and to essential health technologies is critical to 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 co-founder and Board Chair of Dignitas International, a hybrid academic Non-Governmental Organization launched to research and conduct community-based care, prevention and treatment for people living with HIV in the developing world. Dignitas is now caring for over 20,000 HIV positive patients, and has over 12,000 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. It will scale up in 2010 to provide services to a population of 3 million in Malawi.
Dr. Orbinski is a founding board member of the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, and the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Canadian Doctors for Medicare. He is a founding member of the editorial boards of Open Medicine and Conflict and Health, two new independent, peer-reviewed open access on-line medical journals that are committed to the best science and that see health in its larger political and human context. He also sits on the editorial board of Ars Medica, a new journal that explores the interface between the arts and medicine, and examines what makes medicine an art.
Dr. Orbinski is an invited member of the Climate Change and Health Council, a group of internationally prominent physicians calling for immediate action on climate change. He is also an invited member of the Davos World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Health Care Systems and Cooperation.
Dr. Orbinski’s award-winning and internationally acclaimed documentary film on medical humanitarianism, titled “Triage” was screened at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, and won the 2008 Amnesty International Gold Medal Award. It was released in theatres across Canada in the fall of 2008, and was televised in Canada and the US in 2009.
His best-selling book, “An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarianism in the 21st Century,” was released in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand and Australia in 2008 and 2009. It won the 2009 Writer’s Trust Shaunessy-Cohen Prize for best political writing in Canada. It was one of five nominated for the 2008 Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award in non-fiction, and was listed in 2008 as among NPR’s Top Five Political and Current Affairs Books in the United States. It will be released in Germany, South Korea and across the francophone world in 2010.
As of 2010, Dr. Orbinski is a member of the Order of Ontario, and an Officer of the Order of Canada, designations that recognize his achievements and ongoing commitment to excellence in humanitarianism and global health.
Dr. Orbinski lives in Toronto with his wife and their three children.