Is Canada’s HIV funding ‘complacent?’ Why experts say time is now for boost – National
Despite calling on the federal government to take immediate action to eradicate the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in Canada, the 2023 budget fails to provide new funding and mentions HIV. I never did.
Forty-one years after the first HIV case was reported in Canada, a breakthrough medical discovery brings us closer than ever to a cure. But proponents say it’s not science that’s holding back the virus’ eradication, but the lack of political will to provide the funding needed to expand access to treatment.
HIV organizations tasked with dealing with high operating costs due to the spread of infection and inflation say more Canadians will suffer needlessly unless the government increases funding. They say under the current system they will have to fight for limited government funding.
Ken Miller, executive director of the Canadian AIDS Society, said:
“Otherwise you have to fold”
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The federal government currently spends $33.4 million annually on the HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund and the Harm Reduction Fund. The fund supports organizations and projects working to prevent transmission and improve access to treatment for all sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections.
Last year, Canada also pledged $17.9 million to make HIV self-testing more widely available, including in northern, remote and isolated communities across Canada.
But NDP justice and LGBTQ2 critic Randall Garrison said raising the annual budget allocated for HIV treatment and prevention would drop the bucket among all government spending plans.
“My disappointment is that we now know what needs to be done to completely eradicate the disease in Canada, and that requires a very small increase.
“But for some reason it seems to be stuck just beyond the goalpost.”
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defenders are calling Increase federal funding to $100 million per year to combat HIV and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in Canada. This was unanimously recommended by the House Standing Committee in 2019.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos was unavailable for an interview about HIV funding, but in a written statement the ministry worked with community-based organizations to address inequalities and inequities in HIV care. He said he was working to finish it.
“Canada supports the global goal of ending HIV and AIDS as a public health concern by 2030,” part of the statement said. “There is still a long way to go, but there are many reasons for optimism. Canada will continue to work with communities affected or at risk of HIV to support research and treatment.”
When asked about HIV funding in the 2023 budget, the minister’s office said Health Canada would provide $36 million over three years starting in 2024-25 to renew the Reproductive Health Fund. I pointed out the suggestion to spend on
However, the fund supports community-based organizations for a wide range of information and services related to sexual and reproductive health care, including improving access to abortion and HIV as well as other treatments.
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Recent announcements regarding government HIV funding have also come under scrutiny.
“The Canadian government has effectively announced the continuation of programs already in place,” said Miller. “They say people are like, ‘Yeah, yeah, great — we’re doing great. We’re supporting people. But we’re not supporting them in the way we really need to.'”
Garrison said persuading his political peers to act was easier said than done.
“We are somehow satisfied and believe this is no longer a crisis,” he said.
Why stigma remains a major barrier
Advocates like Vimbayi Munonyara, a regional HIV/AIDS connection coordinator in London, Ontario, are working to change the minds of decision makers.
Munonyara was born in Zimbabwe, a country with high HIV prevalence. In her early childhood, she has seen her family and her friends die from her HIV infection. These losses, she said, motivate her to work for those living with the virus.
“Stigma is still the biggest barrier I see,” Munonyara said.
Ignorance about HIV remains prevalent, but she acknowledges that much has changed since early interactions with the virus, including antiretroviral therapy (ART).
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“I’ve seen how HIV treatments have evolved over the years and how people are able to lead fulfilling lives,” she said.
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Although treatments have improved, most HIV infections are incurable. Left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS and can be life threatening.
Scientists, including virologist Marc-André Langlois at the University of Ottawa, have worked to treat HIV.
Cure HIV is not easy. Several vaccines have been developed to prevent HIV, but little progress has been made. Worldwide, he is one of only three people believed to have been cured of HIV. All three of these patients had undergone stem cell transplantation with the primary goal of eradicating their cancer. Stem cell transplantation is not available to most HIV patients as it is a very risky procedure.
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But Langlois made a discovery in January that could remove the biggest barrier to finding a cure. He found that a family of proteins long thought to be antiviral and effective in reducing HIV actually make the virus undetectable in the body.
“This is a major obstacle to eradicating HIV. The virus becomes dormant and undetectable,” said Langlois. “Thus, it gives us new clues about what to look for and what to target to prevent HIV transmission and prevent HIV from becoming latent.”
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Some proponents say such discoveries could have been made sooner with more funding. The pandemic has also forced researchers, including Langlois’ lab, to shift focus to fighting COVID.
“After COVID, people seemed to have pretty much forgotten about HIV,” Munonyara said.
However, COVID did not reduce the number of people living with HIV.there were 1,639 new HIV diagnoses in 2020 In Canada alone, the number An increase of about 5% from 2020 to 2021. In 2018, the latest year for which data are available, it was estimated that: 62,050 people in Canada were living with HIV.
Miller has seen the recent increase in cases up close.
“It’s skyrocketed from where it came from and we can only imagine or believe it. It’s due to a lack of funding,” Miller said.
However, the spike is not across the board and indicates that important work is still to be done.
There are priority communities more affected by HIV, including Indigenous, African, Caribbean, Black, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, and people who use drugs.
“There is a saying that HIV lives where there is injustice,” said Miller. “The spread and outbreak of HIV is an incredible testament to the marginalization of people.”