The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has not issued new calls for operational grant proposals for its AIDS Community Action Program (ACAP), leaving some AIDS service organizations worried that funding could disappear in the new year.
ACAP directs time-limited grant funding to community-based service organizations as part of the federal government’s HIV/AIDS initiative. Fifty-eight HIV/AIDS community organizations receive funding through ACAP, from Saskatchewan to the Atlantic provinces, including 23 in Ontario. Data for Alberta and British Columbia were not available at press time.
The program originally channelled funding into two streams: operational grants and project grants. Funding for the project grants stream was eliminated in 2007, when the Harper government announced it intended to redirect chunks of its existing HIV/AIDS spending toward a new world-class vaccine research centre, which never materialized.
The operational funding is still in place for now, but there hasn’t been a new call for proposals since 2003. Instead, projects that received funding from 2003 to 2007 have had their grants rolled over in successive years, with the annual expectation that PHAC would launch a new call for funding proposals the following year.
ACT director of programs and services John Maxwell worries that he may have to wind down services for HIV-positive youth, women and Portuguese-speakers if ACAP funding isn't renewed very quickly.
But service organizations have not been given any indication that PHAC is either continuing existing funding or calling for new projects in 2012. With little more than two months left in 2011, AIDS organizations are preparing to wrap up some programs that have been serving people living with HIV/AIDS for the last decade.
The AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) uses funding from ACAP for its health promotion and support programs, a Portuguese-language community development program and caseworker, and its positive-youth outreach program. In 2011, ACT received $309,000 through ACAP for its programming. ACT has a special exemption from a rule that each agency can receive only one grant of up to $75,000 because it has absorbed three smaller agencies that had received ACAP funding since 2003.
“We’re absolutely worried that the funding will disappear next year,” says John Maxwell, ACT’s director of programs and services. “We were expecting that announcements were going to come out in mid-September. It usually takes between six and eight months for the federal government to turn around on a grant.”
Maxwell says he’s been unable to get straight answers from PHAC about the future of the grants, a sentiment that’s echoed by Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (TPWAF) executive director Murray Jose.
“Our grant supervisors are unable to answer the questions that we pose them about what’s happening,” Jose says.
Sylwia Gomes, a spokesperson for PHAC, says a new call for applications will be made.
“The details of a possible solicitation for new AIDS Community Action Program project proposals are still being finalized,” she says. “PHAC will notify public health authorities and community organizations once the solicitation plan is finalized and approved.”
However, Gomes could not confirm available funding would be in the same amount or adjusted for inflation. She also refused to speculate about how funding could be continued or bridged if a new call for proposals isn’t issued in time for the start of the 2012 budget year, which starts in March.
PHAC is waiting to announce a new plan pending the release of a report into the structure of HIV/AIDS funding programs, for which PHAC held consultations more than a year ago. PHAC refuses to release the report on HIV/AIDS funding until approvals have been granted by the ministry of health.
Jose says the loss of ACAP funding could have a cascading effect on his organization. TPWAF receives funding for volunteer services, including a coordinator, training, supports and service delivery.
“You could be losing the potential to manage all of the volunteers,” Jose says.
TWPAF also receives funding for its Poz Prevention program and its Food for Life program, which provides prepared meals for clients with limited mobility.
Because there hasn’t been a call for new projects since 2003, AIDS groups have been unable to submit proposals for new projects that might address the changing impact of the disease. Jose also says newer ethnocultural AIDS groups that weren’t around in 2003 have been shut out of applying to ACAP.
But while expanding competition for the grants may foster excellence in delivery, Jose worries that PHAC could be moving from focusing the grants on AIDS community groups to larger community health organizations that may not make AIDS their priority focus or embrace a sex-positive, harm-reduction model of care.
The last ACAP project call awarded grants to several community health centres for HIV/AIDS outreach projects.
“If they were partnering with an AIDS service organization and jointly delivering a program, then absolutely,” Jose says. “With this specific pot of money and the goals of this pot of money, I think it is concerning when it’s opened up to non-AIDS service organizations.”