Why are the Liberals shuttering Canada’s community-based HIV organizations?

By NDP MP DON DAVIES      

In 2016, Canada brought together leaders from around the world in Montreal for the Fifth Replenishment Conference of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.  This conference represented an historic opportunity for Canada and the world to end three of the world’s most devastating diseases by 2030.

The Global Fund supports programs in more than 140 countries which have resulted in an estimated 17 million lives saved to date. Canada has committed more than $2.1-billion to the Global Fund since its inception in 2002 and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deserves credit for pledging $804-million to the Global Fund for 2017 to 2019.

Unfortunately, however, the Trudeau government has not matched this impressive international commitment here at home.

In fact, in late 2016 it emerged that the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has cut funding to 33 per cent of Canada’s community-based HIV organizations.

This meant that a significant number of organizations previously resourced by PHAC—in some cases for decades—were left scrambling to keep their doors open.

In order to preserve these critical services, then minister of health, Jane Philpott pledged to make these organizations whole through 2017-18 with full transitional funding.

While this was welcome news, this funding should have been made permanent through a long-overdue expansion of the Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada; after all, in 2003, both the Liberal and New Democrat MPs on the House Health Committee agreed that the federal initiative should be increased to $100 million annually. It is currently frozen at $72-million.

But by spring 2017, many community-based HIV organizations reported that they had not received their transitional funding, had seen their transitional funding scaled backed, or were still waiting for signed funding agreements to be put in place.

When this issue was raised in Parliament, the Liberal government attempted to dodge the question by claiming to have secured “new investments in the budget to expand the federal initiative on HIV in the order of $30-million of new funding.”

However, with the release of PHAC’s departmental spending documents it became clear that this is patently untrue.  In fact, there isn’t a single dime in extra funding for the federal initiative and there isn’t an extra nickel for the Community Action Fund (the very program that funds these community-based services) through 2019-20.

These cuts now mean that more than 40 community-based HIV organizations across Canada will lose their funding completely on April 1, 2018. Others will have their funding dramatically decreased.

This uncertainty has already led to the closure of B.C.’s only support group for HIV-positive women. And after three decades of tireless advocacy, these cuts will likely force the Canadian AIDS Society to close its doors permanently this year.

Other organizations across Canada will end services that they currently offer clients or operate at a diminished capacity moving forward.

This is completely unacceptable.

Canada’s HIV movement is a proud and resilient sector that deserves to be treated with honesty and respect.  We must support the vital role that community-based organizations play in reducing HIV infection rates and providing care for those living with HIV/AIDS.  Although we have made impressive progress in fighting HIV/AIDS, there have been flare-ups in certain communities and vulnerable populations that must be addressed.

Looking forward, Canada’s New Democrats will continue to press the Trudeau government to re-instate stable and predictable funding for these grassroots groups and finally honour its pledge to expand the Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada.

It’s well past time to make this right, and match our international commitments with action here at home.

NDP MP Don Davies, his party’s health critic, represents Vancouver Kingsway, B.C.

Read more posts about: ,