James Orbinski

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Dr. James Orbinski during an academic conference at York University

James Jude Orbinski, OC, OOnt, MSC (born 1960 in England) is a Canadian physician, writer, and humanitarian activist. He is an associate professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto and a Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs. In January 2011, he also assumed the Chair of Global Health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.[1] In 2013 Orbinski became the CIGI Chair in Global Health Governance and Director of the Africa Initiative at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.[2] In 2013 he also joined Wilfrid Laurier University's School of International Policy and Governance,[3] the Health Sciences Program[4] in the Faculty of Science, and the Balsillie School of International Affairs.[5][6] He was President of the International Council of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, aka Doctors Without Borders) at the time the organization received the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize. James Orbinski also is the co-founder and Chair of the Board of Directors of Dignitas International, a medical humanitarian organization working with communities to increase access to life-saving treatment and prevention in areas overwhelmed by HIV/AIDS. He is a strong advocate for increasing the availability of anti-retroviral drugs to combat AIDS in poor countries.[7]

He is closely associated with the University of Toronto's Massey College where he is a Senior Fellow and was the founding Saul Rae Fellow. In 1998, Orbinski received the Governor General's Meritorious Service Cross for his work as the MSF Head of Mission in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.[8] In 2009, Orbinski became an Officer of the Order of Canada and in the citation was recognized by the Governor General of Canada as an advocate for those who have been silenced by war, genocide and mass starvation.


Orbinski's first MSF mission was in Peru in 1992. He then served as MSF’s Medical Coordinator in Baidoa, Somalia during the Somali Civil War and famine of 1992-93, and in Jalalabad, Afghanistan during the winter of 1994. He was subsequently MSF’s Head of Mission in Kigali during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and as MSF’s Head of Mission in Goma, Zaire in 1996-97 during the refugee crisis there.[9]

He was president of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International Council from 1998 to 2001.

On September 11, 2001, Orbinski was coincidentally[citation needed] in Lower Manhattan and witnessed the attacks on the World Trade Center. He participated in relief efforts for injured people at the site of the disaster.

Books and films[edit]

His book An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action for the 21st Century talks about his experiences as a physician working for MSF in Rwanda during the genocide'.[10] An Imperfect Offering won the Writers' Trust of Canada's 2008 Shaughnessy Cohen Award.

He is the subject of the award-winning 2005 CBC documentary Evil Revisited, which documented Orbinski's visit to Rwanda on the tenth anniversary of the genocide, his first such visit since the violence'[11] He is also the subject of the 2007 documentary Triage: Dr. James Orbinski's Humanitarian Dilemma, which follows Orbinski's return to Somalia, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.[12][13]


He was a founder of the McMaster University Health Reach Program that investigates and promotes the health of children in war zones, and he was a founding member of MSF Canada in 1990. He was President of the Médecins Sans Frontières International Council from 1998 to 2001. Currently, Mr. Orbinski serves on the advisory boards of Engineers Without Borders/Ingénieurs sans frontières Canada and Incentives for Global Health, the NGO formed to develop the Health Impact Fund proposal.

Education and honours[edit]

Orbinski received a bachelor's degree in Psychology from Trent University in 1984, an MD from McMaster University in 1990, and a master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Toronto in 1998.

In 2001, Orbinski was awarded the honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, from Trent University. He was awarded a second honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Windsor in 2006. In 2007, he received a Doctor of Laws from Queen's University[14] and in 2009, was awarded an additional two honorary degrees from the University of Calgary and Laurentian University, at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine's charter class graduation. In 2012 he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Alberta.[15]

In 1997, he was awarded a Meritorious Service Cross (civil division).[16] In 2009, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada "for his contributions as a physician who has worked to improve health care access and delivery in developing countries, and as an advocate for those who have been silenced by war, genocide and mass starvation".[17] In 2010 he was appointed to the Order of Ontario.[18] Orbinski was the Mark Wainberg lecturer at the Canadian Association for HIV Research Conference in 2011.[19]


External links[edit]