HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund will leave many Canadians living with HIV or Hep C out in the cold
OTTAWA – Just two weeks after the federal government pledged $804 million to international efforts on AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis at the Global Fund Replenishment Conference, HIV organizations have had their federal funding drastically cut or completely discontinued across Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) sent out responses from the HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund (CAF) Letter of Intent Process starting on Sept 29, 2016, several months later than originally promised, and the results have been catastrophic for the sector.
Community-based organizations across Canada have been put in a position to fail by a funding process that has been opaque from the beginning. These organizations are now urging PHAC and the federal government to halt the current funding process, and continue status quo funding for one year in order to revisit the process in collaboration with the community. The renewed process would be required to have its goals and criteria posted publically, and be based on consultations with both community organizations and people living with HIV and Hepatitis C. At a minimum, they are asking that PHAC work with the community to determine gaps in funding allocation, and focus on filling those gaps by increasing the value of CAF. Despite previous government commitments, the Federal Initiative, which provides funds to CAF, has not been increased in many years, and, according to a report from PHAC, $13.8 million has remained unspent since 2008.
Previous funding cycles for both HIV and Hepatitis C were developed in consultation with stakeholders and publicly provided information on expectations and application of guidelines. The documentation for CAF did not make this information available, as it was developed privately by PHAC.
The effect of defunding community organizations will be felt from coast to coast to coast, affecting those already living with HIV the most. The pattern that has been perceived by both funded and defunded organizations is that there seems to be a shift from funding for prevention and support to funding for prevention in key populations only, leaving tremendous gaps. Without services to support people living with HIV, Canada will have no hope of reaching the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goal, despite its public endorsement by the Minister of Health, and no alternative national plan.
Gary Lacasse, Executive Director of the Canadian AIDS Society, which has not been invited to move forward in the application process, stressed that they are focussed on drawing attention to those who may be left behind by the cuts, stating “We are not saying that the currently funded projects do not deserve funding, and we are not against new organizations receiving funding. We gladly welcome an increase in service to the community. However, we must be careful not to dismantle existing support networks in order to appear like we are serving new populations, or people will be left without the services they rely upon. We cannot risk a backslide in health and social outcomes for people living with HIV and co-infections by leaving them without a support network.”
Outcry has also come from the Indigenous HIV and AIDS community across Canada as they respond to similar CAF decisions. The Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN) was invited to submit a full proposal at only 30% of previous funding levels.
“We want to hold the process accountable in order to restore and create wellness opportunities for all Indigenous Peoples engaged with the Health system,” stated Ken Clement, CEO of CAAN. “Supporting our Indigenous community is pivotal to turning the tide, now more than ever, when Canada is experiencing epidemic AIDS rates.”
Not only will the HIV/AIDS movement be affected by PHAC’s funding decisions, but projects working on Hepatitis C prevention, education, and treatment programs were also hit hard, despite PHAC defining the new broad reach of CAF. “Always the little sister at the back of the bus, organizations working in Hepatitis C were basically thrown under the bus in this latest round of funding decisions by PHAC. Many of the over 40 member organizations of Action Hepatitis Canada are reporting serious doubt about their ability to do any meaningful work in Hepatitis C prevention in the coming years. With an estimated 250,000 Canadians living with Hepatitis C and new infections occurring every day, PHAC’s response is seriously short-sighted and confounding” saysPatricia Bacon, Chair for Action Hepatitis Canada.
About the Canadian AIDS Society
Created in 1986, the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) is a national voice for people living with HIV/AIDS and represents our members at the national level. We are a movement built at the grassroots level and we are proud of those roots. We are devoted to the idea of people working together with a certain knowledge that the stakes have never been higher and the humble notion that we can work together. www.cdnaids.ca
About the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network
The Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN) is a not-for-profit coalition of individuals and organizations which provides leadership, support and advocacy for Aboriginal people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS, regardless of where they reside. www.caan.ca
About Action Hepatitis Canada
Action Hepatitis Canada (AHC) is a national coalition of organizations responding to hepatitis B and C. Our work engages government, policy makers, and civil society across Canada to promote hepatitis B and C prevention, improve access to care and treatment, increase knowledge and innovation, create public health awareness, build health-professional capacity, and support community-based groups and initiatives.