The Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) is fighting for its life. It’s not alone. It was one of many agencies whose letter of intent to apply for a renewal of funding under the Community Action Fund administered by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) was disallowed in October of last year.
As we reported in October 2016 PHAC has in the past provided funding to community based organizations who respond to HIV - AIDS Service Organizations (ASO’s) plus national partners like CATIE, the International Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD), the Canadian HIV Legal Network etc. The Community Action Fund (CAF) – it’s $26.4 million - has remained stable for the last six years and importantly, will remain stable under the new allocations that were proposed.
At the root of this issue is that while the fund has remained stuck at $26.4 million the number of agencies deemed eligible for support under this funding has increased. That’s because the pot of money once allocated to HIV is now intended to cover, HIV, Hep C and all sexually transmitted blood–born infections, aka STBBI’s. Thus under the government’s new allocation there are both winners and losers – organizations being funded that were not previously eligible and existing ones, like CAS, CTAC and others now left off the ticket entirely, left scrambling for their survival.
Reports CAS in a widely circulated update “Following initial bewilderment, CAS in concert with its national, regional and local partners, rapidly mobilized to fight the cuts and we successfully restored “transitional” funding to community organizations until March 2018.” Transitional funding is designed to facilitate the process of either winding down operations, seeking alternate sources of funding or seeking collaborations with other agencies. CAS describes it as a stop-gap.
Is there hope? CAS thinks so – and it comes in the form of a plea for increasing the $26,4 million CAF. That’s been asked for for years with no success and Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott was saying last year that no additional money is available, period. HIV is no longer a deadly disease, after all, nor does its prevention, yet alone eradication, capture the public’s imagination like it once did.
But CAS says there is still hope. In a February “Stakeholder Meeting to Identify Concrete Actions to Address STBBIs in Canada” Minister Philpott told community representatives gathered in Ottawa of her personal desire to see increased funding of the Federal Initiative.
That is not the same as her being able to deliver. CAS is striking a note of optimism, however. “We have reason for some optimism in that the Minister of Health has clearly stipulated to some National Partners that she would welcome our assistance to help her be an advocate to increase the Federal Initiative. In essence, it’s our job to help her help us….. From our perspective, we must collectively mobilize to simultaneously make the case for our continued relevance today and begin to make changes to adapt to the changing world of the future.”
I talked with CAS Executive Director Gary Lacasse yesterday about the need for more funding. He made the case that the original $26.4 was exclusively for HIV. Now it is intended to cover all STBBI’s it’s not enough. He sees a dilution in the fund’s impact unless something is done. Will it impact people living with HIV? “The issue is that most of those organizations – the 30% defunded – were providing support for people living with HIV” said Lacasse. “The increase to the Global Fund was fantastic but we are not looking in our own back yards to see what’s working and what’s not working.”
The Federal Initiative was to address HIV” Lacasse goes on “to help people living with HIV affected by or at risk of HIV. There is no way we are going to let the government change the focus of that federal initiative. If the government wants to build upon the experience and wealth of knowledge we have built over the years they are going to have to increase finding to address the other STBBI’s.”
“We need to have a collaborative effort to make this (push for increased funding) work" says Lacasse. “The federal government has some legitimate goals in attempting to streamline the delivery of services and prevention for STBBIs as a whole — although it should not be by siphoning much needed funding from the Federal Initiative for HIV in order to address any gaps.”
Is CAS exploring other avenues of keeping afloat? “We at CAS have been exploring fund development, ensuring that there is still a place for the AGM and Forum for people living with HIV, which bring critical outcomes to our work plan, be it for CAS or be it for other national partners. We have the Scotia Bank AIDS Walk that is one of our key deliverables that provides $1.1 million to about 30 community organizations across Canada. We don’t see ourselves closing as of 2018. We really don’t.”
We hope not. Stay tuned