Canadian activists have called upon the next federal government to restore funding of support programmes for HIV patients. They charge the incumbent Conservative government has diverted the funds to other programmes. The appeal comes amidst intense electioneering.
In 2004-2005, an all-party agreement promised to increase federal AIDS funding from $42.2 million to $84.4 million a year by 2009. The funding was to go toward research, community support for those living with HIV and AIDS and programs for people most at risk for HIV infection.
Instead, the funding is about 15 per cent short of that target, said a news release issued Thursday by the Canadian AIDS Society and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, a coalition of several hundred community-based organizations.
About $11.8 million of the $84.4 million will not be released as intended, said the AIDS Society. Some of the funding has been redirected to the development of an HIV vaccine and away from treatment, support, and prevention — a move that advocates say has had a crippling effect on Canada's fight against AIDS.
Throughout the federal election campaign, the coalition of advocacy groups asked the five major political parties about their support for funding AIDS programs and their stance on including treatment and harm-reduction initiatives, such as safe injection sites and needle exchanges, in the national drug strategy.
According to the organizations, unsafe drug use is a key factor driving the spread of HIV and hepatitis C virus in Canada. The country has about 60,000 people infected with HIV, with a few thousand news cases diagnosed every year.
The Bloc, the New Democrats, the Liberals and the Green party — either through their party platforms or in their response to the questionnaires sent out by the two organizations — have backed harm-reduction programs and stable federal AIDS funding, but there has been no response to the questionnaire from the Conservatives, said Monique Doolittle-Romas, executive director of the AIDS Society.
The advocacy groups accused the Conservatives of favouring punishment over harm reduction and treatment in the National Anti-Drug Strategy they launched last year despite evidence that the latter approaches have proven effective in Canada and elsewhere, reports CBC News.
Prior to the election, Health Minister Tony Clement called Vancouver's supervised injection site "a slippery slope."
Canadians are heading for national elections on Oct.14.