OPINION: Trudeau’s vision for ‘innovation’ won’t end Hepatitis C and HIV
In advance of tonight's HIV/AIDS community lecture, PhD student Alexander McClelland slams recent funding changes.
In the past year we have seen the development of two preventable public health emergencies across Canada. In September, Saskatchewan doctors called for a state of emergency over HIV rates that are double the national average, and in April, British Columbia declared a public health emergency after fentanyl overdoses killed 200 people in three months.
Beyond the declared health emergencies, the combined epidemics of Hepatitis C and HIV have been consistently on the rise for years, with around 8,000 new Hep C cases annually — many through injection drug use — and more than 4,000 new cases of HIV in the same time period. There is now a cure for Hep C, but one that is out of reach to many due to the prohibitive cost of the patented drug sold under the brand names Sovaldi and Harvoni.
So how is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s administration responding? Last month we saw the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) administer the most aggressive gutting and reorganization of funding for groups working to end these crises since the emergence of the two viruses in the 1980s. Now, 42 historically supported organizations have been denied funding.
These cuts are driven by what public health officials call “integration.” The idea is to combine all the funding for HIV, Hep C and other infections of the blood into one pot of money, without increasing the pot. This plan was introduced under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, but is now being enacted by the Liberals.
The trend of upholding Harper’s promises is something that Trudeau is becoming better known for than following through on his own.
This reorganization is intended to increase the level of competition, with PHAC stating they are looking to fund “innovation.”
‘We already have a multitude of proven approaches’
Trudeau’s choice to promote competition and corporate logic is not innovative and will not end the epidemics of Hep C and HIV.
True innovation would be ending the false climate of financial austerity.
True innovation would be fully financially supporting indigenous communities in Saskatchewan to address the growing health crises in their communities.
True innovation would be fully funding a Hep C strategy with a goal of eliminating the virus — now an actual possibility!
True innovation would be not only pushing for opening a multitude of supervised drug consumption sites across the country, but also enabling the complete liberation of drugs from Canadian legal frameworks to support people to use safely and end the overdose epidemics.
We already have a multitude of proven approaches to help end HIV and Hep C such as peer-based education and harm reduction interventions, but under the Harper regime they were chronically underfunded and under attack. Now with Trudeau, we see the same thing: keep people fighting for meagre resources, and call this “innovation.”
Meanwhile, groups that have been running successful initiatives such as Montreal’sASTTeQ, CACTUS, the Coalition Sida des Sourds du Québec, and Maison Plein Coeurare losing funding. The same is the case for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network at the national level.
In our city and across the country, groups are now left scrambling to compete with each other instead of focusing on addressing real health crises in their communities.
‘Chronically underfunded Hep C’
While this integration of funds is intended to streamline services, it also means smaller organizations are losing resources and larger organizations will be tasked with taking on specialized services for populations and diseases that they have no previous experience addressing.
This also means chronically underfunded Hep C groups could be ignored. In an opposition response to the situation entitled, “NDP statement on Liberal cuts to HIV/AIDS organizations,” Hep C was not even mentioned once, despite PHAC cutting all funding for World Hepatitis C Day.
A year after being voted into power in dramatic fashion, it’s time the Trudeau government stopped playing political word games such as asking for innovation while enacting the age-old practice of freezing budgets.
Instead it should support the programs of a variety of organizations across Canada run by those who are most impacted by the two diseases and best placed to respond. In the process, it will better the lives of all residents of Canada, including indigenous people — another of Trudeau’s promises.