Phillip Banks of the Health Initiative for Men wants to know where BC provincial Liberal leader Gordon Campbell’s commitment is to AIDS prevention in the queer community after the premier announced $20 million for a pilot program to help hard-to-reach victims of the disease in Prince George and Vancouver’s Downtown East Side.
The project would expand access to HIV and AIDS drugs to street-involved people.
But, says Banks, the gay community has the fastest HIV infection rate of any community and has seen no promises from the premier.
“Why, once again, have HIV prevention needs of gay men been ignored?” Banks asks.
He says while the promise of programming for the Downtown Eastside is laudable, he believes it is politically motivated by the appeal of being seen to do something for the impoverished in the area.
“If you really want to bring the overall rate of new HIV infection down, you have to have treatment for gay men,” Banks says. “We’re seeing millions (of dollars) for other communities.” When Campbell made the campaign promise Apr 23, the premier said the five-year pilot project, which would help increase access to Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), could prevent as many as 173 HIV infections and save around $64 million in HIV treatment costs.
“Through the excellent work of Dr Julio Montaner and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, a pilot project is being proposed to connect with people on an individual basis and get them a chance to access the services they need,” Campbell says.
The promise is contingent on the Liberals winning the May 12 provincial election.
Campbell made the pledge at the18th Annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research in Vancouver.
Campbell says it’s estimated that more than 12,000 people in BC are living with HIV, and approximately 27 percent of these individuals remain undiagnosed.
With a provincial population of just over four million, that puts the provincial infection rate at .003 percent, according to Statistics Canada.
Banks says the rate in the queer community is 16 percent.
In the Downtown Eastside, the rate is estimated at a staggering 30 percent, various national studies indicate.
Queer Vancouver-West End NDP candidate Spencer Herbert says Campbell and health minister George Abbott do not seem to be hearing the pleas for resources from the queer community.
“The health of our community is incredibly important,” he says. “We know something has to be done, and that’s going to take resources.”
Herbert equates the lack of resources for HIV/AIDS issues with the proposals to move St Paul’s Hospital out of the West End.
“This hospital is a world leader in fighting AIDS,” he says. “These voices have not been heard.”
The five-year Downtown Eastside and Prince George pilot project, if started, would involve integrating health system partners, from public health and non-governmental, community-based organizations to low threshold, interdisciplinary primary care clinics and private practice physicians.
The proposal aims to facilitate access to HIV testing and care, but involvement would be voluntary and respect standard practices, including participants’ informed consent.