The name Eric Smith rings an eleven-year-old bell. He was a school teacher on Cape Sable Island when he was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1986, and by 1991, had given up the fight to keep his job. He knows he’s alive because he lives in Canada, where drugs are available.

“We don’t appreciate how lucky we are here,” he says. “There’s lots to accomplish globally, but in Canada, we are doing much better than most other places, including the U.S.”

Smith’s medications cost about $15,000 a year, paid by the government, insurance companies and Smith himself.

“People in other places are out of luck. AIDS drugs are expensive to develop, and drug companies want to make their money back.”

Some countries in Africa can’t afford headache pills, let alone prevention programs or the much more expensive drugs that keep Smith healthy. Hence the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

But the fund is short more than $12-billion. Why? Because the world’s rich countries refuse to cough up as much as they’re being asked to.

The fund’s administrators have set donation figures for countries based on their wealth. Canada is being asked for $150-million. Not exactly chump change, but Japan and several European countries have been asked for more. Bill Gates has been asked for more. The U.S. is down for $750-million.

But so far, Canada has only given $37.5-million. The U.S. has agreed to pay only $300-million. Of the thirty-one countries that have pledged, only Ireland has completed its payment

I ask Smith why this is. “It’s the nature of the beast,” he says. “Whenever you have an important meeting like the one in Geneva of the Global Fund, politicians talk big and then come up short. Heads of state try to impress other heads of state.”

Smith believes that when politicians deal with issues like AIDS, it’s the same as when they deal with homelessness or child poverty. “They want to sound like they are doing something, but they’re too far removed from the people who are affected. They know the issues but they don’t know the people.”

And if politicians don’t feel connected to the homeless or poor in Nova Scotia or Canada, they won’t feel any connection with people dying of AIDS in Africa. Smith would send politicians on a harsh fact-finding mission. “If they had to spend a week working in a hospital in Africa, then they might be more likely to follow through on pledges.”

It’s easy to dismiss the terrible situation of those far away, in lands different than ours; easy to connect when we feel a kinship. Forty million people are infected with HIV; 250,000 people die every month from AIDS, yet it’s the eleven sniper deaths in the U.S. that occasion commercial-free non-stop television and front-page reportage. We can’t believe we will end up in an African hospital, dead or dying for lack of simple drugs, and summon great empathy for anyone shot down while waiting for a bus or pumping gas.

Developed nations not showing the money for the Global Fund is appalling. The rich of the world — and Canada is at the top of the list — needs to put its money where its mouth is.