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Calgary AIDS groups fed up with lack of funding

Groups deal with booming population and decreasing funds

As Alberta’s population continues to boom, so does the percentage of that population affected by AIDS and HIV. Funding for community HIV/AIDS outreach and treatment has been cut since the federal Conservatives came into power, and Alberta’s community AIDS groups are fed up with the lack of government support.

“We even get increases from the United Way every year,” says Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director of the Central Alberta AIDS Network and Society. “It’s amazing, they are our next largest contributor and their funding is from donations.”

While the cost of living and doing business rises, federal funding to HIV/AIDS outreach, research and community services across Canada was cut by 15 percent in 2007 and again this year, according to the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. In Alberta, a province with a booming population, this is causing frustration for Calgary AIDS services groups.

“Money decreased from the province by $58,000. That’s the equivalent of one small organization, which takes about $60,000 to run for a year,” says Vanerschaeghe. “It’s crazy frustrating.”

In Alberta, federal and provincial funding is pooled into one lump sum as the Alberta Community HIV Fund, which is a joint initiative of the Alberta Community Council on HIV, Alberta Health and Wellness and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“Under the previous administration there was a commitment to double the federal government’s strategy to $84 million a year,” says Susan Cress, executive director at AIDS Calgary. “That hasn’t happened. A good portion would have touched research community development.” These are the issues that frustrate small organizations who are indispensable in their communities. “It is not enough,” says Cress.  “It would have been appropriate for the commitment to be maintained.”

“We fit the status quo,” says Cress. “Other provinces have been cut significantly.”

AIDS Calgary offers outreach and support programs, community education and development, as well as community-based research. This is a small list of the many services that HIV and AIDS groups offer to their affected populations.  With the election approaching, they are all concerned with how the next government will change their situation, for better or worse.

Recently, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network released a survey that questioned all the major parties about their agenda on AIDS in Canada. The Bloc Quebecois, Green Party, Liberal Party and NDP all responded with consideration of the issue. The Conservatives did not offer any response.

 “Our concern is we would like to see a more progressive, socially responsible focus from the new administration, whoever that may be,” says Cress.