3 min

HIV prevention for gay men in limbo

Pink Triangle Services tables proposal to take control

NOT AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION. There are no HIV prevention efforts focused on gay men in Ottawa, says PTS executive director Maura Volante. Credit: Rob Thomas

Pink Triangle Services (PTS) may soon move to fill a gaping void in the city’s AIDS prevention programs.

PTS has put forward a proposal that would put the organization at the forefront of the fight against rising HIV/AIDS infection rates in Ottawa’s gay male population.

Last month, PTS submitted a draft proposal to the Ottawa-Carleton Council on AIDS (OCCA) requesting the social service and wellness agency be allowed to take a lead role in providing prevention programs for the city’s gay men.

The proposal, if approved, would transfer the responsibility and funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and peer support services specifically targeting gay men from the AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO) to PTS.

ACO, previously one of the leading agencies providing HIV/AIDS prevention information for gay men in Ottawa, currently provides no prevention services for the gay community.

With HIV infection rates in the city’s gay male population rising – along with other sexually transmitted diseases – PTS executive director Maura Volante says her organization felt it was necessary to put forth a proposal to help fill the current gap in prevention programming.

“There was felt to be an urgency, in that need, which was not being met,” Volante says. “There is no agency, right now in Ottawa, that is doing that [gay men’s prevention] in any concerted way.”

ACO had previously partnered with PTS to offer male and female prevention programs with project funding from Health Canada. But, Volante says, that programming was cancelled in September after the project’s funding was not renewed.

“Since that funding ran out, there has not been prevention work being done in the gay community,” she says.

Over the past several years ACO – which began as a sub-committee of PTS in 1985 – shifted its attention from prevention and personal support services primarily for gay men, to providing support services to a wider range of Ottawa-area residents already infected with the virus.

While ACO has not taken a formal position on PTS’ draft proposal, ACO chairman Gareth Park says the document is a “good place to start the discussion” regarding how to best provide prevention services to the city’s gay men.

“It would be a welcomed step of helping to beef up prevention services [for gay men], which has seriously been lacking recently,” Park says. “We’re quite supportive of PTS taking on a greater role in providing prevention services.”

The draft proposal currently sits before the strategic planning sub-committee of OCCA, which is spearheading the council’s efforts to transform itself into a more centralized local planning committee for Ottawa’s AIDS-serving community. The document has yet to be considered by the full council.

OCCA chairman Ron Chaplin says he finds the PTS transfer proposal “interesting,” but notes that the council has only had a “short discussion so far” about the document’s proposal.

Although he says that there is “good will” among many in the gay community “to make PTS the lead agency as far as gay men’s prevention,” Chaplin says no major shifts in responsibility or funding allocations will be made until after OCCA’s own strategic planning process is complete – most likely sometime this fall.

He added, however, that it is clear that a long-term solution to the lack of gay men’s prevention programming in Ottawa is a priority for the council and the community, as ACO has already “given indication” that it intends to permanently “step back” from prevention programs.

Bruce House executive director Jay Koonstra echoed Chaplin’s comments, saying while he “whole-heartedly supports” PTS involvement in prevention, any changes in responsibilities and funding allocations for prevention services must be made as a “comprehensive plan for the entire [gay] community.”

However, Koonstra says that PTS could play a more immediate lead role in providing a “stop-gap solution” to the prevention services crisis, because “it is imperative” that a short-term prevention solution be found for Ottawa’s gay population as soon as possible.

Chaplin agrees.

“OCCA has targeted and identified prevention programs as a priority action over the short-term,” he says.

Chaplin added that a portion of ACO’s current budget could be reallocated to help fund any short-term prevention measures, which could be delivered by PTS.

Volante says PTS would be interested in the possibility of an “interim partnership arrangement” with ACO for this purpose.

In addition, she says that PTS will continue to pursue the most feasible long-term answer to the lack of HIV/AIDS prevention services for Ottawa’s gay men.

“I’m fully in support of PTS taking on this extra responsibility and I am also fully committed to working along with all these other key players to come up with the best solution,” she says. “We have to keep hashing it out until we get the best way.”