Funding Cuts Put Fraser Valley HIV Organization in Jeopardy

Positive Living Fraser Valley Society may be forced to close its doors next year
Joseph Keller, Web Editor

The future is looking uncertain for the Fraser Region’s only major service provider helping people infected with HIV and hepatitis C.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, the government body which currently provides the majority of funding to the Positive Living Fraser Valley Society (PLFVS), has announced major cuts to the organisation’s funding. The decision has spurred a public outcry from advocates of the society and left organisers scrambling for an alternative source of funding.

The Abbotsford-based PLFVS has served the Fraser Region from Langley to Boston Bar for nearly 11 years, beginning after a needs assessment showed that the region has the highest rate of hepatitis C infections in the province and a high rate of HIV infections. The society serves nearly 1000 people in the region and operates two drop-in support centres, a prevention-assessment-referral clinic, a foodbank, hamper delivery service, awareness events, naloxone training and distribution, mobile and permanent harm reduction offices, and medical transport to bring patients to specialists in Vancouver. The society mainly serves those at-risk, including homeless people and drug users, and is the only organisation in the area providing many of these services.

“There is no other community agency in the Fraser Region with this much expertise in HIV and hepatitis C,” says PLFV Executive Director Kari Hackett. “So it’s quite a big gap to fill.”

Should the Public Health Agency of Canada go through with the announced cuts, Hackett says, the society will most likely be forced to cease operations or, at very least, severely reduce the scope of the organisation and services offered. PLFV organisers have until March 2018, when the current round of government funding runs out, to petition for a reversal of the decision or find alternative funding before making a decision about closing the society’s doors.

“Obviously we’re doing everything we can to not close, from looking at other funding sources to advocating with the federal and provincial governments and health authorities,” says Hackett. “We’re turning over every potential rock to look for funding to replace this.”

While HIV can be better managed today than during the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s, the disease is still highly complicated to treat. As patients living with the disease get older, they are prone to issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and vision loss. Individuals such as homeless people and drug users are particularly at risk of bloodborne diseases like HIV and hepatitis, and these social conditions can make it particularly difficult for patients to stay on medication.

“People think that HIV’s kind-of-not-really happening anymore, or that it’s so well managed that it’s not a big issue, but people still are dying daily of HIV,” says Hackett. “There’s a lot of other health issues that come along with it even though their HIV is managed.”

On Mar. 16, a roundtable discussion was hosted by social work students from the University of the Fraser Valley to discuss a plan of action to save the society. The takeaway from this discussion was a recognised need to put pressure on local MPs and MLAs from all parties about the community’s need for the society.

“What came out of that was that we really have to sell the point that we’re unique and what the loss of services to the Fraser Region would create,” says Hackett. “Because we’re not in a resource rich area.”

There is still hope for the Positive Living Fraser Valley Society. Funding was originally set to end in March of this year before public outcry lead Public Health Agency of Canada to continue funding until March 2018 in order to give the organisation time to search for other funding sources. Organisers are closely watching opioid response funding announcements from the federal government in hopes that some funds could be sent their way. The PLFV asks anyone supporting the organisation to write to local MLAs and MPs to emphasis the importance of the organisation.

“There’s something to be said for quantity, and the more letters to MPs voicing these concerns the more attention we’ll get,” says Hackett.

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