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Feds promise long-term hep C funding

Expired program to be rolled out in coming months

FUNDING FUTURE. Federal hep C money has been notoriously unstable. Often, cash has been granted in one-year increments, limiting the kind of work community groups could pursue. Credit: Brent Creelman

Canada’s federal response to hepatitis C was announced May 14, more than six weeks after funding for the previous program ran out.

The call for proposals hasn’t been tendered yet. It could be the fall — or later — before cash is handed over to community groups who do prevention and support work.

Health minister Tony Clement made the news public in tandem with the announcement of a new drug treatment initiative for Vancouver’s Lower East Side.

“These funding investments demonstrate the Government
of Canada’s determination to work with our partners within all levels of government to address the devastating impacts on our communities that can result from the transmission of hepatitis C,” said Minister Clement.

Minister Clement announced $10.65 million in annual funding for community-based hep C initiatives. That represents the same pool of money that was available in 2006-2007 — but extends the one-off project to an ongoing model.

Between Mar 2007 and Mar 2008, that fell to $2.5 million while Public Health conducted a review of the program.

Richard Rainville is the executive director of Access AIDS Network in Sudbury. When the size of the purse shrank last year, the AIDS Access Network lost their federal funding. It now runs hep C programming thanks to provincial support.

Rainville says that stable, predictable funding “is what we all have been hoping for.”

“If it’s not ongoing, there’s no point in introducing direct services to our clients,” he says. “You can’t introduce that to a client and then 10 months later say, ‘No, that program is over, there’s nobody here who can help you.'”

Federal hep C money has been notoriously unstable for the better part of a decade. Often, cash has been granted in one-year increments, severely limiting the kind of work community groups could pursue.

A spokesperson for Clement’s office says the project was approved in Jun 2007. But information about it wasn’t released until this month — buried 10-paragraphs deep in a press release about a Vancouver drug rehab project.

“While there was a time delay between the approval of the renewed program and the public announcement, there was no lapse in external funding for community programs, because Public Health extended funding for existing programs for 2007-08 while they focussed on strategic planning,” says Laryssa Waler, press secretary to Clement. “We announced the renewal of the program now because we have completed our dialogues with stakeholders and are in the process of finalizing our national action plan.”

Community-based hep C programming is typically run by local AIDS service organizations. Funding for the federal community-based program for HIV (the AIDS Community Action Project) runs out in Mar 2009.

Waler declined to comment on whether the delays in a hep C rollout bodes well for AIDS funding.

“It’s two different kettles of fish,” says Rainville.

If federal AIDS programming lapses, “there will be no one providing services in the area.”

But groups like the Access AIDS Network have been kept in the dark about what federal contributions will look like after AIDS programming dollars lapse early next year.

If HIV funding is handled the same way as last week’s hep C news, it could send prevention work and support programs into convulsions across the country.