James Orbinski

Dr. Orbinski is a humanitarian practitioner and a leading scholar 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. As of September 2012, Dr. Orbinski is CIGI Research Chair in Global Health at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, and professor of International Policy and Governance at Wilfrid Laurier University. At the University of Toronto, which he joined in 2003, he is full professor of Medicine at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, and Senior Fellow at both Massey College, and the Munk School of Global Affairs.

In 1986-87 Dr. Orbinski lived in Sub-Saharan Africa researching HIV/AIDS in children under a Canadian Medical Research Council Fellowship. He has extensive field experience with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), having worked as a medical doctor in Peru (91) and Brazil (92), and as MSF’s medical co-coordinator in Baidoa Somalia during the 92-93 civil war and famine, and in Jalalabad, Afghanistan in 1993-94 during the civil war.  He led MSF’s mission in Kigali, Rwanda during the 1994 genocide and civil war, and in Goma, Zaire during the 1996-97 civil war and refugee crisis.

After completing a Masters Degree in International Relations, he was elected international president of MSF from 1998 to 2001. During this time, he launched MSF’s Access to Essential Medicines Campaign (1998) and accepted the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to MSF in 1999.

From 2001 to 2004 he co-chaired MSF’s Neglected Diseases Working Group, which in 2004 launched the not-for profit Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi). Since then, he has remained on the board of the DNDI which has developed and delivered 6 new treatments and has 17 others in its pipeline for Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, and malaria, while building sustainable research capacity in disease-endemic countries.

In 2004, Dr. Orbinski co-founded Dignitas International, which is now supporting over 200,000 people with full treatment for HIV, and is scaling up its Primary Health Care treatment model to serve a population of 3 million in Malawi. Dignitas also has established an extensive research capacity, with over forty major publications focused on improving health systems in the developing world.  

Some of Dr. Orbinski’s research is recognized as among the “best science in the world” (in 2006),[i] and as having "shaped scholarship in the field of global health in the post Second World War years". [ii]  He is also the author of the award-winning and best-selling book, An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarianism in the 21st Century (Bloomsbury, 2009). The book has since been translated into five languages. He was the subject of the award winning 2008 documentary film, Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma.

Dr. Orbinski has served on the founding boards of the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, 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. Dr. Orbinski is a member of the Climate Change and Health Council and the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Health Care Systems and Cooperation.  

Dr. Orbinski is a member of the Order of Ontario and an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2011, he was the recipient of the Tarnopolsky Human Rights Award (awarded by the Canadian Superior Court Judges Association, the International Commission of Jurists {Canada}, the Canadian Bar Association, and the Canadian Association of Law Teachers), in recognition for his outstanding contributions to domestic and international human rights. He was also awarded the 2012 Canadian Civil Liberties Award of Excellence.

[i] Edward J. Mills, Jean B. Nachega, Iain Buchn, James Orbinski, Amir Attaran, Sonal Singh, Beth Rachlis, Ping Wu; Curtis ooper, 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.)

[ii] John Kirton. Global Health. The Library of Essays in Global Governance. Editor’s Preface. Ashgate Publishing Limited. 2009. Pg, xii. [Peer Reviewed]. Referring to: Troullier, P, Olliaro, P, Torreele, E, Orbinski, J, Laing, R, Ford, N. “Drug development for neglected diseases: a deficient market and a public health policy failure.” The Lancet 359: 2188–2194. 2002. 

Select Publications

  • Orbinski J. (2014). "Introduction" in Asbinsu Singh, Zinta Sommers, Eds. Reducing Disaster: Early Warning Systems for Climate Change. Springer Press. 2014.
  • Orbinski, J. (2014). "Global Health, Justice and International Law." In Michael Freeman, Sarah Hawkes, and Belinda Bennett, Eds. Law and Global Health. Oxford International Law Series. Oxford University Press. 2014.
  • Ilona Kickbusch, James Orbinski, John Kirton. Co-Editors. Global Health 2012. Newsdesk, 2012.
  • Orbinski, James. Foreword. Ethics and Global Health. "An Introduction to Global Health Ethics." Edited by Ross E.G. Upshur and Andrew D. Pinto. Publisher: Routledge, 2012.
  • Canadian Academy of Health Sciences Panel. Assessment of Canada’s Strategic Role in Global Health. Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.
  • Orbinski J, Harland-Logan S, N-Marandi S. "Are Patents Impeding Medical Care and Innovation?" PLoS Med; 2010 Jan; 7(1).
  • Murray, C, Baeza, C, Bali, V, Bloom, D, Boufford, J, Bradley, E, Cassels, A, Dzau, V, Elias, C, Frenk, J, Halvorson, G, Kondo, J, Lob-Levyt, J, Mills, A, Osmaswa, F, Orbinski, J, Smith, P. "Global Healthcare Systems and Cooperation." Global Health Council Report. Global Agenda Council Reports 2010. DAVOS World Economic Forum. Global Agenda, 2010. See:
  • An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarianism in the Twenty-First Century. Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2009.
  • Orbinski, James, "A Doctor in Kigali." Lapham’s Quartlerly on Medicine. September 30, 2009.
  • Mills EJ, Checchi F, Orbinski J, Schull MJ, Burkle FM, Beyrer C, Cooper C, Hard y C, Singh S, Garfield R, Woodruff BA, Guyatt GH. “Users’ guides to the medical literature: how to use an article about mortality in a humanitarian emergency.” Conflict and Health 2 (9). 30 September 2008.
  • Orbinski J, Beyrer C, Singh S. “Violations of human rights: health practitioners as witnesses.” The Lancet 370 (9588): 698-704. August 2007.
  • Dolma S, Singh S, Lohfeld L, Orbinski J, Mills EJ. "Dangerous journey: Documenting the experience of Tibetan Refugees." Am J Public Health. 2006 Nov;96(11):2061-4.

Academic/Professional Awards

  • Canadian Civil Liberties Association Award for Excellence, 2012
  • Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, 2012
  • The Canadian Bar Association's Walter S. Tarnopolsky Human Rights Award, 2011
  • Order of Ontario, 2010
  • Officer of the Order of Canada, 2009
  • Writer's Trust Shaunessy-Cohen Prize, 2009
  • Meritorious Service Cross 1997, Canada