Community Impacts of Federal Reallocation of HIV and Hep C Funds: Ally Centre of Cape Breton

Last autumn dozens of HIV/Hep C organizations across Canada received a negative response to their proposed projects from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) under the HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund — effectively defunding them.

This shocking unilateral decision by PHAC affects up to 30% of community organizations combatting HIV and was intended to be effective as of March 31st of this year. CAS reacted immediately to the decision and through immediate and vigorous combined effort with our members and national partners, we managed to ensure that transitional funding be extended to March 31st 2018.

However, the harsh reality remains that at the end of this transition period, many organizations will be forced to close their doors or change their services in very significant ways. These changes will have a daily impact on the health outcomes of thousands of Canadians because these organizations put prevention and the social determinants of health at the core of their work.

Our intention is to fully re-establish long-term stable funding for all community-based organizations with a view to increasing the federal initiative for HIV/AIDS and proportionally increase the HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund.

To this end, one of the measures we are taking includes sharing several organizations’ stories—stories of resiliency in our darkest hour— because their stories are what make our movement what it is.

Ally Centre of Cape Breton (formerly the AIDS Coalition of Cape Breton)

After 24 years of receiving funding from the AIDS Community Action Fund (ACAP), the Ally Centre of Cape Breton’s letter of intent (LOI) was not recommended for further consideration under the new HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund.

During those 24 years of service, federal funding allowed us to grow from a simple resource centre offering information and support to those living with HIV and their families to being the central referrer for all STBBI related issues, including harm reduction programs, testing, support, education and advocacy in Cape Breton.  The centre has become the hub for Cape Breton’s most vulnerable and is essential to the continued health and safety of our island.

The Ally Centre addresses the root causes of STBBI’s through its advocacy work around poverty, stigma and discrimination.  We have celebrated many firsts in Cape Breton and have mobilized the community to respond to the issues related to STBBIs. We were:

  • the first to provide a safe space for LGBTQ individuals;
  • the first to respond to the need for blood-borne pathogen prevention and to offer anonymous testing services;
  • the first to lobby for and open a needle exchange for people who inject drugs;
  • the first to provide needle exchange and harm reduction education in our 5 First Nations’ Communities;
  • the first to lobby and work toward methadone maintenance and opioid recovery programs;
  • the first to lobby and implement naloxone and overdose prevention;
  • the first to house a primary health clinic specific to vulnerable populations; and,
  • the first to develop programs for people who work in the sex trade.

We host the only Transgender support group in Cape Breton with 80 members.  We have developed and supported Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in every high school on the island.

In other words, the federal funding we received over those 24 years was put to very good use in the development of projects and programs for people living with and vulnerable to STBBIs. SO much so that when PHAC did a national evaluation of their ACAP programs, the Ally Centre received excellent feedback for its work, particularly in the area of meaningful involvement and inclusion of the populations served.

When the Ally Centre of Cape Breton first received ACAP funding, it was operational funding.  About 10 years later the funding model switched to project funding. This change did not have an effect on the Ally Centre as we were successful in obtaining continued funding until the Community Action Fund Letter of Intent Process.

Without this funding, our projects will be orphaned; they cannot stand alone.  There is no other place on this 10,311 square kilometer island, which is mostly rural, that does the front line work of The Ally Centre. There will be no support for People Living with HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C on Cape Breton Island.  Our needle exchange, which currently distributes more syringes per capita than mainland Nova Scotia, will close.  There will be no more support, prevention or education for people who inject drugs in our communities or within our 5 First Nations communities.

Without funding, our testing program will no longer operate nor will our primary health clinic for vulnerable populations. Our Trans Support Group will dismantle. Sex workers will be out in the cold, without support.  Our food bank will close.  Our peer support programs will no longer exist. Our naloxone program will cease to exist despite Cape Breton having the highest rates of overdose per capita in Nova Scotia.

Cape Breton currently has the highest rates of Hepatitis C per capita in the province. Opioid use is epidemic on the island, and. Without the Ally Centre, these rates will surely increase and the effects will be devastating to an already very sick island.

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