HIV prevention funding is hard to find at home

In December, Ottawa pledged an extra $120 million for HIV/AIDS support around the world. The bulk of the cash is going to Tanzania, Mozambique and…

In December, Ottawa pledged an extra $120 million for HIV/AIDS support around the world.

The bulk of the cash is going to Tanzania, Mozambique and Haiti.

Back home, funding has been less generous.

“HIV funding is being stalled,” said Patricia Bacon, executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions Centre in Whitehorse.

“Money just isn’t flowing to where it’s meant to go.”

This year’s federal budget brought no increase in funding.

Blood Ties receives $125,000 a year from Ottawa’s HIV/AIDS Community Action Program.

Yukon Health and Social Services puts in $167,000 a year. Federal funding has not increased in 10 years.

Last year, territorial funding was increased by $4,000 to cover some extra costs.

The additional money was not continued this year, but the extra costs are still there.

And the cost of providing the service keeps going up, said Bacon.

Blood Ties is a charitable, non-profit organization with two mandates.

It promotes awareness and prevention education for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C and  provides support, counselling and advocacy for those affected by these diseases.

It also focuses on harm reduction, providing safe needles and crack kits for users.

Located on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Baxter in Whitehorse, Blood Ties serves all Yukon communities.

However the organization does not receive enough funding to execute extensive outreach work in Yukon’s smaller communities.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 61,423 positive HIV tests have been reported as of November 2006.

A total of 20,493 people had been diagnosed with full-fledged AIDS, as of June 2006.

It is estimated however that 30 per cent of infected individuals living in Canada are unaware of their infection.

This “hidden epidemic” is what Blood Ties’ free testing day, which happened on Wednesday (also National HIV Testing Day), hoped to quell.

In the Yukon, 47 people have tested positive for HIV to date.

“But it’s a misleading number,” said Bacon.

The Yukon has a large transient population, many people choose to get tested outside of the territory, and there is a reluctance to get tested especially for those living in rural communities where access and privacy are a concern.

All of this leads Bacon to believe that that the actual number of infected could be much higher.

The Yukon’s First Nation community is at particular risk from the virus.

Only 3.3 per cent of the Canadian population, aboriginal people make up six to 12 per cent of all new HIV infections.

The threat to Canada’s aboriginal communities has been compared to the epidemic in Africa.

But, it is not receiving the same attention.

On testing day, approximately 80 people showed up at Blood Ties for free burgers. And there was a steady line-up to see the two nurse practitioners.

Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway came down to get tested.

“It was painless,” she said afterward.

“I can see how people feel comfortable here, it’s a good service.”

Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers was also invited to the event.

He didn’t show up.

Cathers could not attend “the barbecue because of conflicts with his busy schedule,” said cabinet communications spokesperson Albert Petersen on Thursday.

Where was Cathers?

“That’s a ridiculous question,” answered Petersen.

“You’ll never find the answer to that, these people are just too busy.”