PHAC reports 25.3% increase in the diagnostic rate since 2014; Canada far behind other G7 countries in eliminating new infections
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OTTAWA, February 18th, 2020 – In December 2019, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) released its “HIV in Canada—Surveillance Report, 2018”, which revealed that the number of new HIV cases in Canada has jumped 25.3% over the past four years; from 2,040 in 2014 to 2,561 in 2018. Within this timeframe falls the implementation of PHAC’s funding cuts to community-based HIV organizations in Canada receiving funding from their HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund. 40% of organizations that were previously supported by the Action Fund lost their funding because they did not focus on the government’s new priorities of prevention-centred programming. These cuts have had devastating effects on these organizations’ long-term strategies of providing secondary prevention through capacity building for care and support to the most vulnerable. After the funding cuts were announced in 2016, CAS warned the Minister of Health that these cuts would lead to rising rates across the country, and unfortunately, our prediction has come true.
Over 68,000 individuals are currently living with HIV in Canada, 14% of whom are unaware of their HIV status. The Canadian government has expressed its support for the UNAIDS global targets, including meeting the 90-90-90 targets (90% of all people living with HIV know their status, 90% of those diagnosed receive antiretroviral treatment, and 90% of those on treatment achieve viral suppression) by 2020 and eliminating HIV as a public health threat by 2030. Canada is not meeting the 90-90-90 objectives and will be behind schedule to meet the 2030 objectives. We must also address both the limits of the surveillance data from PHAC that fails to adequately record exposure category or race (which, in the 2018 Surveillance Report, were only available for 60% and 47% of new cases respectively) as well as the disparity between the surveillance data and the estimate data. It is inconceivable that in 2020, validated data of HIV incidence and prevalence is not accessible.
The Standing Committee on Health has recommended that funding specifically allocated to address HIV in Canada should be increased to $100 million annually. Despite this recommendation being made both in 2003 and in 2019, we have yet to see its implementation. Additionally, the existing HIV fund is also used to address all sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI), as well as part of the response to the opioid crisis. This current distribution strategy limits the total value that is dedicated to specifically address HIV in Canada, which does not have a cure and should thus be prioritized in efforts to prevent new infections. The current strategy of the Community Action Fund simply does not provide enough funding to cover all the issues it is supposed to address, which CAS believes directly contributes to the rising rates Canada is currently experiencing.
The past few years have shown that without adequate funding, we will lose the valuable ground we have gained and fail to achieve the public health goals to which Canada has committed. Community-based HIV organizations play a direct role in reducing the number of HIV infections in Canada, and with sustained funding these organizations are capable of providing primary prevention, secondary prevention (treatment and care), testing, and education for the public about the realities of HIV. We strongly believe that we will not see a major decrease in HIV rates until we fund secondary prevention models through capacity, care and support for those living with HIV. Each new HIV infection represents $1.3 million in direct and indirect costs over an individual’s lifetime. If HIV rates had continued to decline as they had before the funding changes, it is estimated that 1,909 fewer HIV infections would have occurred, representing an economic cost of $2.5 billion. By providing adequate funding to HIV service organizations, PHAC would not only be addressing a key public health priority, but also preventing extensive future costs to the healthcare system.
Canada is a nation whose healthcare system is globally perceived as exemplary; however, this system has been unable to collect validated data, cut funding to evidence-informed programming and reversed the positive momentum in addressing HIV in Canada. Although public statements of support are appreciated, Canadian community-based organizations must be given the funding needed to provide the services that are needed to support people living with HIV and to prevent new infections. We therefore ask the Canadian government to honour the Standing Committee of Health’s recommendation to increase HIV-specific funding to $100 million yearly. Without these concrete changes, we must ask ourselves if Canadian politicians are merely paying lip service to the HIV/AIDS movement in Canada. Complacency is not an option and the failure to support people living with HIV/AIDS in Canada is a political failure by the Trudeau government.
For media inquiries:
Executive Director, Canadian AIDS Society