Harsh Realities: HIV Funding in Canada

The funding landscape has always been a challenging terrain for non-profits.  From changing funder priorities to new government targets, organizations are often faced with uncertainty and the inability to make long-term plans. 

We recently sat down for a Q&A with Garry Lacasse, the executive-director of the Canadian AIDS Society to talk about the recent changes at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and the impacts on Canadians living with HIV. (Please note that some edits have been made for clarity.)



IBH: How would you describe the impact of the PHAC cuts to the HIV sector, and to people living with HIV?

GL: I describe it as being an exclusionary funding, most of the cuts to the sector are being felt with organizations that offered care and support to those living with HIV.  You see 90% of those [organizations] funded are in primary prevention, so preventing HIV [infections] to non-HIV people in our society, so the [programs] that do prevention through care and support are cut from the funding.

IBH: Is it correct to state that PHAC funding is now focused on education and prevention? If so, where does that leave people living with HIV, in terms of support?

GL: Yes, that leaves people living with HIV out in the cold. PHAC have acknowledged that they did create this gap. [This] is the centre of our advocacy at CAS, what the essence of our message is that we are talking about people here not stats or numbers, we are talking about Benoit, Carl, Monique, Janet etc.

IBH: What will the impact be on new HIV transmissions from these PHAC funding cuts?

GL: We saw that 2016 had the highest new rates of infections since 2009, I truly think that this will be trending upwards in 2017, so what I am saying is that the new funding model will not curb new infections. [Note: stats for 2017 have yet to be released.]

IBH: Funders often have a focus on programs with distinct start and end dates.  Reading comments on media stories shows that many people feel programs “don’t work” if they need to operate on a long-term model with sustained funding.  Given this, how do we make a case for sustained funding?

GL: I have been in the movement for 10 years, I have been talking about sustained funding for that amount of time.  We need direct mission funding, this is critical to the survival of any community- based organization.  Funding for projects and services should not represent 100% of the financing, it is detrimental to envisioning impactful, cutting-edge or sustained programming that works.

IBH: What do we tell PHAs who feel abandoned by their federal government?

GL: Rise up, ask “WHAT ABOUT US?”, let’s get together in one voice and demand better from our governments and the philanthropy sector.

IBH: Does Canada have a federal HIV/AIDS strategy?

GL:  Yes we do, it is greatly underfunded, from the Liberal promises in 2004 we are missing more than $114m in the fund since then.

IBH: Will we meet our commitment to the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets?

GL: I would love to say yes, but with the gaps that PHAC created and less money available overall, I truly do not think so.

IBH: Of the funds announced by the federal government for HIV/AIDS, how much money is actually flowing to community organizations?

GL: Out of the new combined fund of HEP-C and HIV there is [approximately] $82m, of that $26.4m goes to community.

IBH: Are there any other messages you feel people need to know?

GL: We need to be more collaborative and respect each other, respecting each other does not mean being of the same opinion, but respecting our differences.  If we do not unite, I think the funders are going to forget about People Living With HIV, so I think that those living with and affected by HIV must band together and hold ALL funders accountable so that we can eliminate stigma and get to zero transmissions.

The PHAC changes mentioned above have challenged many AIDS service organizations, including both Bruce House and the Canadian AIDS Society

Bruce House no longer receives funding from PHAC, funding which was previously used to operate the Volunteer Program.  Bruce House volunteers contributed the equivalent of five full-time staff positions last year, in every aspect of the agency from governance to operations and direct client services.  For an already under-funded organization like Bruce House this means more fundraising and many more applications for small grants, in order to piece together sufficient funds from a variety of sources to maintain the same level of programming as previously.  Each and every grant application represents hours of staff and volunteer time, with no guarantee of receiving any funding—and this is time taken away from other tasks, such as delivering services to clients.

For more information about the Canadian AIDS Society, please see http://www.cdnaids.ca/

For more on the funding situation for people living with HIV:

Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) announces no Forum for people living with HIV this year

HIV/AIDS groups scramble for cash after federal transition funds dry up

Dozens of HIV/AIDS organizations struggling from lost funding


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