Pubdate: Wed, 23 Feb 2005
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2005 Times Colonist
Author: Judith Lavoie


Hundreds of suburban drug users will head downtown where they will share 
needles and increase their risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis C if a 
mobile needle exchange program has to close because of lack of funding, 
HIV/AIDS activists are predicting.

Michael Yoder, executive director of Victoria AIDS Resource and Community 
Services Society and Penny Bradford chairwoman of Vancouver Island Persons 
Living with HIV/AIDS Society, said Tuesday they cannot continue to stretch 
their budgets to meet government expectations.

Funding for the mobile needle exchange will end March 31 and the service 
will be scrapped unless more money can be found, because the budget is 
already at the snapping point, Yoder said.

"We are barely able to maintain our daily activities," Yoder said at a 
rally held outside the legislature Tuesday.

Bradford said her organization has already cut back to four hours a day 
because there has been no funding increase since 1994, "We can't squeeze 
any more blood from a stone."

The organization receives $84,000 a year from the province through the 
Vancouver Island Health Authority and needs at least $70,000 more, she said.

Yoder said VARCS has not received an increase in its core funding of 
$99,000 since 1992, but workload and expectations of the province have 
increased dramatically. At least another $30,000 is needed, he said.

The mobile needle exchange last year provided more than 56,000 clean 
needles and picked up 36,000 used needles from communities stretching from 
Sooke to Saanich. It received one-time funding of $40,000 from VIHA.

The province is aiming to decrease the rate of HIV infection by 50 per cent 
and wants a 25 per cent increase in access to HIV/AIDS services by 2007.

"If you want us to do these magnificent things, you can't get it for free," 
Yoder said.

Brenda Locke, minister of state for mental health and addiction services, 
said it is up to VIHA to dole out funding, but the province is spending 
$100 million annually on HIV and AIDS.

"Yes, 50 per cent (infection reduction) is a very ambitious goal, but we 
think it is doable," she said.

VIHA Chief Medical Officer Richard Stanwick said HIV/AIDS support 
organizations are struggling with funding, especially as people are living 
longer in a serious chronic condition.

The needle exchange received special, one-time funding, but the money is 
not available this year, he said.

"Money is tight and we have to priorize how to get the biggest bang for the 
resources we have at this time," Stanwick said.

With that in mind, VIHA is about to change the way it provides services. In 
October it will be asking for bids for services it has decided are the 
priorities, Stanwick said.

That could include the mobile needle exchange, he said.

The bidding process will be difficult, Stanwick admitted.

"No matter where you draw the line, there's not going to be enough and I 
haven't met a group that's not deserving," he said.
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