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CATIE adopts new role

AIDS treatment info exchange takes on prevention

The Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE) is creating the country’s first national network for information on HIV prevention.

The Toronto-based CATIE will be funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada to work with AIDS service organizations (ASOs) and other community-based groups to provide a pool of shared information on HIV and AIDS prevention. The project will be completely up and running by Tue, Apr 1.

“We have this broadened mandate to work with frontline agencies on prevention for people who are at risk,” says CATIE executive director Laurie Edmiston. “For some AIDS service organizations it might be telling them about a best practice developed halfway across the country. We can also help bring people together.”

Edmiston says CATIE will be helping ASOs in smaller towns learn how to deal with diverse populations.

“When it comes to language it’s very population specific,” she says. “How you talk to a Muslim woman is very different from how you’d talk to a gay man. They may not have the diversity we have in Toronto but they increasingly do have diversity.”

Edmiston says CATIE was given the task of creating the network because it already does much the same thing around treatment. She says that infrastructure will make it easier for CATIE to take on its new responsibilities.

“We have thousands of subscribers,” says Edmiston. “We have 800 members. We already have a lot of people who are connected to CATIE. We’re already very connected at the local level.”

But Edmiston admits that adding prevention to CATIE’s mandate will require a lot of work.

“We’re going to have to do outreach at the non-ASO level,” she says. “Public health doesn’t work with people who are positive. Harm-prevention people do work with people who are positive but their focus is on prevention.”

Edmiston stresses that CATIE will continue its work around treatment issues.

“CATIE’s roots are in AIDS Action Now,” she says. “When everyone focused on prevention, they said, ‘We’re positive, how about us?’ There is still very much a PHA [persons with HIV/AIDS] focus. Seventy-five percent of our board are positive, the majority of our staff are positive.”

Although CATIE is receiving additional funding for the project, Edmiston says money will still be tight. CATIE’s budget will now be $3 million a year. CATIE is the sole recipient of money funnelled into the newly created Knowledge Exchange Fund.

“We’re receiving less than 30 percent additional funding,” she says. “Our work is doubling, more than doubling because so many more people do prevention.”

But Edmiston says that government funding of AIDS organizations in general is looking increasingly shaky.

“We now have this funding for a year and a half,” she says. “We’re the only agency that has committed funding beyond March 2008.”

CATIE will have sole discretion over how to spend that money and whether to spend it on shared projects with other national AIDS organizations. Edmiston writes in a follow-up email that CATIE will consult other organizations.

“Once consultations have been completed in the spring new and existing partnerships will be determined and developed, which will likely be in the underdeveloped area of HIV prevention,” she writes. “It’s especially lacking any focus on specific populations and new immigrants.”