Federal funding for HIV services in limbo
More than 100 frontline HIV/AIDS services in Canada spent World AIDS Day wondering whether they'll be able to keep their doors open next year.
The 134 projects are funded through the Public Health Agency of Canada's $12.1 million AIDS Community Action Program. While the federal government said the money would be renewed on Thursday, the charities running them are still waiting for a formal invitation to apply for new funding.
“We’ve seen a real absence and lack of leadership on this portfolio,” said Rick Kennedy, executive director of the Ontario Aids Network. “There are only 122 days remaining until the funding runs out across the country.”
The money is part of the federal government’s $72 million Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada, but current funding agreements expire on March 31, 2012. Kennedy says the funded organizations received an email from the federal government on Nov. 22 advising them an expedited request for proposals would be issued by the end of that month. But it is now December and Health Canada still hasn’t invited them to compete for new funding.
“I don’t think any decisions have been made yet, but we continue to make AIDS a priority for our government,” said Parliamentary Secretary of Health Colin Carrie on Thursday. Carrie said the government intends to issue a request for proposals soon, but couldn’t pinpoint a specific date. The Public Health Agency of Canada also confirmed on Thursday that the funding levels will remain the same at $12.1 million.
Kennedy said he hopes the call is issued soon, otherwise Canadians could be put at risk. “Cutting funding means cutting lives,” he said. “They will lose services. They will lose information related on where to get access for treatment, information on the most updated options for treatment and HIV prevention as well.”
Organizations funded by the program offer HIV/AIDS prevention programs, support for those who are HIV positive and information about treatments.
One of those organizations is Bruce House, an Ottawa-based organization serving the city’s estimated 3,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. Bruce House provides supportive housing for nearly 70 HIV-positive people who are low-income or isolated from society because of the disease. The charity receives $79,000 annually from ACAP, which it uses to recruit and train volunteers.
Losing the money would “decimate” Bruce House’s services, said executive director Jay Koornstra. “Volunteers are virtually the foundation of any not-for-profit organization. That’s why we are able to provide services,” he said. Koornstra has big dreams for Bruce House, planning to extend services and programs in the next year, but much of that is dependent on having volunteers to help out. He even stayed up until midnight on Nov. 30 in anticipation for the call for funding.
“It may cause a reduction in services if we do not get extended funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada,” he said. And reduction in services, according to Kennedy, could hit Canadians in the pocketbook by stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS and keeping those who have it healthier for longer.
Last week the Canadian AIDS Society released a report suggesting that HIV/AIDS costs Canadians $1.3 million per each new diagnosis. An estimated 65,000 Canadians were living with HIV or AIDS in 2009.
The government didn’t let World AIDS Day go by unnoticed, announcing five new HIV research projects worth $17 million.
The opposition parties said the government missed an opportunity to recommit to supporting frontline services and put the minds of charities at ease. “It’s unacceptable to keep them on tenterhooks,” said Liberal health critic Hedy Fry. “Today you have an opportunity to say we are either going to renew the funding, bringing in the funding or whatever. That would have been the kind of announcement I would expect.”
Organizations deserve to have more than three months to come up with strong evidence-based proposals Fry said. Even if the government makes a call for proposals next week, there are only three months to review, revise and approve them before the money needs to start flowing.
“What really makes me furious is that the government puts people through so much stress,” said NDP health critic Libby Davies. “They work bloody hard and can they count on the government to come through on a timely fashion so they know where they are, apparently not.” Davies said even if the funding comes through, the delays could leave people scrambling if funding criteria changes.
Koornstra is already bracing himself to work through Christmas and is counting the pennies in the organization’s contingency fund. “It’s never been this bad,” Koornstra said of the delay. “Nothing has been delayed to this extent.”