In February of this year, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) invited Letters of Intent (LOI) for the HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund (the Fund). PHAC was clear that a total of $26.4 million is available to support the community based response to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and related sexually transmitted and blood borne infections (STBBI); projects that are aligned with the priorities and eligibility criteria of the Fund. PHAC was also clear that the process would be open and transparent.
As a new national stakeholder in the response to HIV and HIV co-infections in Canada, the Canadian Positive People Network (CPPN) acknowledges that the development of the Community Action Fund pre-dates our incorporation. We also acknowledge the change agenda that the Fund represents - a sensible change agenda - if the results of the LOI process honour the objectives of the Fund and if the plan is successfully implemented. And, we appreciate the complexities attached to the Fund and all of its processes, including what we assume were extensive reviews of hundreds of LOIs paired with managing ‘asks’ that amounted to more than twice the funding that is actually available.
We understand that these complexities will have presented unique communications challenges, particularly related to sharing results of the process, but we are, nonetheless, greatly concerned about the absence of clear communications throughout the process and about how it all affects people living with HIV and HIV co-infections in Canada – now, and going forward.
The CPPN was encouraged to know that people living with HIV and HIV co-infections from outside of PHAC were invited to participate in the LOI review process. We are, however, disappointed by the absence of reasonable openness and transparency on the part of PHAC as the process unfolded. We do not, for example, know how many people living with HIV and HIV co-infections were involved, so our confidence is tested in terms of knowing that our interests as people with lived experience and/or the interests of communities which we are part of were fairly represented.
Notwithstanding the vast number of submissions that deserved fair and equal consideration, we and many of the community-based stakeholders with which we work find it extremely difficult to understand why PHAC needed more than 5 months from the LOI launch before it communicated its decisions.
We are concerned that what was communicated lacks sufficient substance for us to draw reasonable conclusions.
Since the CPPN did not qualify to submit its own LOI, we were happy to work with the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD) to reflect a long-term strategic future for the CPPN as part of ICAD’s domestic programming. After close collaboration and careful consideration, ICAD included the CPPN as an independent national network that would function under its administrative purview. While we are grateful for PHAC’s support of the CPPN and its ongoing role in Canada, we are concerned that ICAD’s programs and services are deeply affected by the results of this review.
This worry is related to broader concerns (and perceptions) of people living with HIV and HIV co-infections, and of communities, that the LOI results represent reductions and/or elimination of front-line services.
The list published by PHAC on October 6th highlights which organizations are invited to submit full funding proposals. While this list, together with the information provided during a teleconference meeting that PHAC hosted this afternoon, helps bring some clarity, there remains insufficient detail with which we can reasonably assess the true impact on people living with HIV and HIV co-infections.
We know that many organizations, some of which have long, well-established histories in the Canadian response, are not invited to submit proposals, but we do not know why and the list offers us no explanation.
We know that the LOI results have given rise to serious concerns for countless people living with HIV and HIV co-infections across the country, leaving many with more questions than answers. Regrettably, the CPPN lacks sufficient information to help these individuals understand what it all means or what impact it will have on them over the long-term.
At the same time, we have a sense that PHAC’s decisions also represent some very promising investments in new and innovative programs and services that will mean significant gains in terms of benefits that directly affect people living with HIV and HIV co-infections AND Canadians who are at risk of infection. We are, for example, encouraged by PHAC’s decision to invite a proposal from a new national alliance focused on gay men’s sexual health.
Without compromise or condition, the CPPN stands in solidarity with people living with HIV and HIV co-infections across Canada. We are encouraged by what seems a concrete commitment from PHAC to GIPA/MEPA by way of its support of the CPPN and our role as an independent national network with, by, and for people with lived experience. We look forward to working together to make a true and meaningful difference in the lives of people living with HIV and HIV co-infections.
At the same time, we need to fully understand the LOI results and the potential impact each of PHAC’s decisions represent in the lives of people living with HIV and HIV co-infections in Canada. To that end, the CPPN is requesting a meeting with PHAC officials and with the Chief Public Health Officer to discuss the LOI process and its implications going forward. We welcome input from our members, from the community, and from people living with HIV and HIV co-infections… not just as we prepare for discussions with PHAC, but always.
Do not hesitate to contact the Vice-Chair and/or the Secretary of the CPPN’s Board of Directors, or the CPPN’s Interim Managing Director. Contact information is included below.