By: Brandon-Richard Austin
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is drawing criticism from AIDS/HIV social workers in Toronto for switching focus from AIDS treatment towards AIDS prevention.
This switch in focus will result in drastic budget cuts for a number of service providers in Canada, said the Canadian Aids Society in a press release.
PHAC said its new funding plan will maximize efficiency and “increase the effectiveness of community-based investment.”
The agency said it reached its decision following a consultation with stakeholders beginning in 2014. However, Christopher Thomas, communications director for ACT, said PHAC did not involve his organization.
“We’ve been seeing bits and pieces of what their spokespeople have been saying,” said Thomas. “It would’ve been great to see a little bit more of the strategy that they were investing in. Being a part of that process is something that the movement and a lot of people with HIV feel is important to them.”
Thomas said that although he recognizes prevention is a major part of AIDS/HIV social work, he feels the government is “vacating a space that they just aren’t comfortable in.”
Christian Hui, who coordinates the Ontario Positive Asians Network, said the government did not explain its cuts clearly.
“A lot of times, when the government provides funding to organizations, they expect certain metrics to be met,” said Hui. “Overall, most organizations have been meeting those targets.”
Hui said he was disappointed when he learned the government was not taking that into consideration. Hui, who himself has HIV, said he – and many other workers he spoke to – was under the impression that budget cuts would affect organizations who were not meeting their targets.
Instead, PHAC said it will be ending financial support for programs like Hui’s by March 2017 – regardless of performance.
“For the sake of the organizations or agencies, they could have been better prepared if they knew the fact that they are not counting past performance,” said Hui.
Christopher Thomas also said his organization did not understand the full extent of the cuts initially.
“We did not anticipate a sector-wide reduction,” he said. “We did understand that PHAC had shifted its priorities. The actual reduction in the amount of programming we would see cut – no, we didn’t see that coming.”
Thomas said ACT is still working to fully understand what the budget cuts will mean.
“A lot of that will depend on whether or not we can work with our partner organizations who have been denied their funding to see whether or not we can find some alternative sources,” he said. “That itself is a problematic thing, where you’re spending all your time trying to figure out where your funding’s going to come from and the people who depend on you are the ones who take that on the chin.”
Christian Hui said groups like his put “a lot of heart and soul” into assisting people with HIV/AIDS.
“I hope we can find ways to sustain the network,” he said. “We need to go through some contingency plans, perhaps look for alternative funding, which is always competitive.”