Ottawa injects $17.9 million for the fight against HIV, but the community remains unsatisfied

Ottawa injects $17.9 million for the fight against HIV, but the community remains unsatisfied

Although hailed by the community sector, the granting of $17.9 million by Ottawa to increase HIV testing leaves the community sector unsatisfied. Of the overall envelope, $8 million will go to supporting community organizations in the deployment of self-test kits. However, the latter deplore “punctual and very targeted” funding.

The Federal Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos, announced this investment a few days before the closing of the International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2022). This one-time, non-recurring funding will notably make it possible to increase the distribution of HIV testing kits.

This funding was long overdue, according to Ken Monteith, executive director of the Coalition of Quebec Community Organizations Against AIDS (COCQ-SIDA). The latter points out that the announcement is the “first new funding” from the federal government specifically for HIV since 2008.

“It takes an increase in this ongoing commitment, because it hasn’t changed since 2008,” he says.

For Ken Monteith, the entire HIV response requires increased investment. He would therefore like Ottawa to inject $100 million annually, and not $73 million, as is currently the case.

What was announced yesterday is not what we wanted, but this announcement is not a bad thing, because we have indications of openness from the government.

Ken Monteith, Executive Director of COCQ-SIDA

According to him, the self-test approach will allow a “democratization” of screening, which remains considered a medical act. A nurse is indeed required to carry out the screening. Ken Monteith recalls that during the pandemic, the number of HIV tests decreased by 17%. Many nurses were then requisitioned for COVID-19.

The most vulnerable and isolated populations will thus have easier access to HIV screening tests. The cost of a self-test is approximately $35, plus taxes and shipping.

Where are the other government partners?

For the Executive Director of COCQ-SIDA, this announcement is proof of openness on the part of the federal government. According to him, it is necessary for all levels of government to jointly coordinate the fight against HIV with the community sector.

Ken Monteith thus received Minister Duclos’ announcement as proof of support for community organizations.

“We have a long experience, in the community network, of having projects to manage, but we have no support and no support for the structure which must carry all of these projects”, explains Ken Monteith.

He also points out that it would be essential for the provincial government to also act by making access to HIV treatment free. The criminalization of drug possession and sex work are also bulwarks in the achievement of public health objectives against HIV.

“Let’s stop putting obstacles in the way of our fight for the health of our communities,” explains Ken Monteith. When we criminalize, we push people away from care and make their existence more precarious.”

On the municipal side, Ken Monteith would like to see them take action on the issue of public order and safety. According to him, vulnerable people, such as those who inject drugs, are penalized too much, which does not stop the circulation of drugs.

“We have adopted a policy that undermines our public health efforts,” he said.

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