HIV rates in Canada have increased for the fourth year in a row, according to the most recent data available — and the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) says funding cuts are to blame.
The Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) 2018 HIV Surveillance Report was released in December. It reveals that the number of new HIV cases in Canada has increased by 25.3% since 2014.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, attacks the immune system, increasing the risk of infection and causing flu-like symptoms. The disease can be transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids from infected individuals, for example, through unprotected sex or the sharing of contaminated needles and syringes.
While there is no cure, treatment and preventative measures are key to stopping the spread of the disease and preventing symptoms from progressing.
In a press release issued on Tuesday, the CAS claimed that the rise in HIV rates is largely due to funding cuts to local HIV organizations receiving assistance from PHAC’s HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund in 2016.
Nearly 40% of community-based HIV organizations lost their funding for not aligning with the Canadian government’s new focus on prevention.
Positive Living BC is just the latest HIV organization to shut down after losing funding in 2016. The Vancouver-based wellness centre is scheduled to close at the end of March.
“The federal government unjustly thought that provincial governments would fill the gaps. They have not — we are expecting other organizations to close,” CAS Executive Director Gary Lacasse told Global Citizen.
Currently, more than 68,000 Canadians are living with HIV — with 14% unaware that they have been infected.
Despite previously expressing support for the initiatives, the Canadian government is not on track to meet the UNAIDS 2020 global targets — that 90% of all people living with HIV will know their status, receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and have viral suppression — or the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to eliminate HIV as a public health threat.
Adequate funding is needed to prevent the number of new HIV cases from continuing to rise. If funding to HIV organizations had not been drastically reduced, there would have been 1,909 fewer cases, according to the CAS press release.
“We need to bring back programming to support and care for people living with HIV. Where the infection rates are highest, services for support and care are lacking,” Lacasse said.
“We also need to talk about the full gamut of prevention, from condoms to treatment as prevention or U=U — where someone who is living with HIV and is on continued medication [and] cannot pass on HIV — to PreP and other harm reduction prevention models,” he added. “A national pharmacare program would greatly reduce HIV rates also.”