The COCQ-SIDA has rung the alarm about its funding crisis from the federal and provincial governments.
There are now less than five months remaining until the funding cycle for local HIV/AIDS services from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is renewed on Apr. 1, 2022. The Coalition des organismes communautaires québécois de lutte contre le sida (COCQ-SIDA), a representational body of Quebec’s HIV/AIDS community organizations, is concerned about the deadline’s impacts.
The organization has been pointing at a crisis revolving around issues of funding. Unfortunately, rates of HIV/AIDS transmission across Canada have been on the rise for quite some time. Since 2003, Canada has implemented new programs to fight the virus in a multitude of ways, spanning from treatment to prevention. Members of Parliament urged the Harper government to increase funding, but its response was underwhelming according to doctors and activists. In 2016, the Trudeau government, in a bid to balance its funding, shifted financial focus to prevention rather than treatment, creating huge gaps from which groups like the COCQ-SIDA are now feeling the burden. In 2016, 42 treatment-oriented groups saw their funding vanish in this shift. Because funding hasn’t increased in years according to the COCQ-SIDA, organizations that require assistance will only require more resources as cases continue on an upward trend.
The current method used by Ottawa to supply local groups with funding is primarily two-fold: HIV/AIDS service funds are distributed by the Community Action Fund (CAF) and the Harm Reduction Fund (HRF). The CAF is given over $26 million by the federal government, which they allot by granting organizations with five-year funding contracts. The HRF gets $7 million to distribute in the form of three to five-year contracts with a maximum of $250,000 for a single group annually. The COCQ-SIDA’s primary issue is that these numbers have not evolved to reflect the times.
“The impact of the decisions of the PHAC, within the framework of the 2021 calls for submissions for the CAF and the HRF, means that several member organizations of the COCQ-SIDA [who are] well rooted in their communities and [have] varied expertise find themselves victims of this chronic underfunding. The situation is even more serious in the context of underfunding at the provincial level,” said Ken Monteith, director general of COCQ-SIDA.
Due to the issue of increased demand and stagnant finances, many groups are struggling. On top of these issues, contracts have expiration dates. After those three or five-year deals, many organizations might not have their funding renewed, forcing their operations to be scaled down. “We are going to have to reduce our staff very significantly, to the point of having to consider closing the organization,” said Charlène Aubé from IRIS Estrie, an organization in Sherbrooke whose contract was not renewed.
Several other centres across Quebec will be faced with harsh realities this spring. Thousands of Quebecers living with HIV/AIDS, as well as others who might contract the disease will be impacted by these policy decisions in the very near future.
Graphic Courtesy of Rose-Marie Dion