December 10, 2008
In 2008-09, Canada will spend $84 million (US $66.8 million) domestically on HIV/AIDS, the most in the nation's history. But some of that money is being redirected from community-based efforts toward the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative. This approach, said Jirina Vlk, spokesperson from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), "balances current prevention needs and a longer term investment necessary to find an effective vaccine."
"The reduction in HIV/AIDS grants and contributions is the result of two separate processes: the government-wide expenditure review process and a realignment of federal government investments in HIV/AIDS," explained Mauricette Howlett, PHAC regional director for Ontario.
However, HIV/AIDS groups worry a move away from harm-reduction strategies at the federal level will negatively impact Ottawa's epidemic. As many as 3,000 people in the city are infected, and up to a third of these do not know it. "It's a scary time," said Kathleen Cummings, executive director of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa.
Ottawa Public Health (OPH) estimates that six HIV infections are prevented annually by harm-reduction programs, though the number may be as high as 24.
"Ottawa has one of the highest rates of HIV among injection drug users, and since we've really put a focus on harm-reduction efforts, that number has come down. We have seen an effect of harm-reduction programs on the rates of HIV," said Roger Prasad, a sexual health supervisor at OPH.
According to the agency, 78 new infections were reported to OPH by the end of September, compared to 73 cases for all of 2005.