3 min

Show us the money!

AIDS groups want federal funding now

Credit: Capital Xtra files

After more than a year of aggressive campaigning for a renewed Canadian Strategy On HIV/AIDS, the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) has finally got most of what it wanted… but not soon enough.

In May, the federal Minister Of Health announced that funding for the national AIDS Strategy will be increased, over a five-year period, from its current annual level of $42.2 million to $84.4 million annually.

But while CAS Executive Director Paul Lapierre applauds the move, he is concerned that the planned slow addition of funds could leave the strategy seriously under-resourced – resulting in the elimination of programs and the impossibility of launching new initiatives.

“It’s creating some issues, because the [Parliamentary] Standing Committee On Health a year ago said we need $100 million a year now, why wait five years before reaching that level of funding,” he says. “Our membership has asked us to advocate that the money arrives to the community sooner rather than later.”

In addition to lobbying the government to release the promised funds more quickly, CAS Chair Gail Flintoft says it is also important to make sure that the money actually gets to the HIV/AIDS community it is supposed to assist. The first year’s increase, five million in 2004-2005, has been designated for community-based groups.

“There’s been five million that’s been designated, right now, to go directly to the community. But how much of the five million we’re actually going to end up getting is another thing,” says Flintoft. “And we won’t know that until they have rolled that out – and they haven’t done anything about rolling that out yet.”

Flintoft adds that when the money is eventually distributed, it will have to be spent by the end of March “and that’s not a lot of time.”

“And we’re still waiting,” she says.

CAS estimates that approximately 56,000 Canadians are currently living with HIV/AIDS. Last year alone, the organization estimates that there were up to 5,000 new infections in Canada.

“And we see infection rates going up among women, aboriginal peoples and gay men – so it’s right across the board that our infection rates are going up, and this is one of the things that we are saying to the government,” says Flintoft.

She adds that Canada’s per capita spending on HIV/AIDS-related programs and research is behind countries like Great Britain and Australia – and both have lower HIV/AIDS infection rates.

“We sort of need to wake up and smell the roses here. Because, yes we look good compared to developing countries that are dealing with horrendous problems, but when you compare [Canada with] other G-8 countries, we should be at the top and we’re not,” says Flintoft.

In addition to funding concerns, Flintoft says that Canadian youth are also a top priority for her organization.

“One target population that has been quite underserved over the past few years is youth,” she says. “So we met with the former minister responsible for youth, we now have a youth advisory committee and we’ll be seeking some partnership with various organizations who work with the young population.”

As well, Lapierre says CAS representatives met with the Council Of Ministers Of Education, Canada last month to explore “the possibilities or options of creating a national curriculum in our school system.”

The role poverty plays in the quality of life of those infected with HIV/AIDS, as well as in increasing the likelihood of infection, has also become an important issue for CAS.

In January, the organization began a two-year project to identify a strategy to combat the lack of comprehensive and accessible information about federal and provincial income security, employment support and health benefits for people living with HIV.

“Poverty can contribute to HIV infection and HIV definitely contributes to poverty, unfortunately,” says Flintoft.

But while CAS is committed to the HIV/AIDS community it serves, it waits for the government to live up to its end of the bargain.

“We’d really like to get double the funds much, much sooner,” says Flintoft of the promised AIDS Strategy funding. “We’re pushing that [since] Toronto will be hosting the 2006 International AIDS Conference, it would look really good if that money started flowing out within the next two years – like all of it.”