View from a hotel window. "Regina might not be the most exciting city in Canada" says publisher Bob Leahy "but it played host to a solid conference that re-established CAS as a force to be reckoned with."
The Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) went into last week’s national Forum for People Living with HIV needing a victory. It has had a history, after all, of meetings that left many frustrated, if not angry. As well, it is currently on what some would see as life support from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) – transitional finding designed to allow a handful of activities, but with no money for a face to face AGM, for example, and an uncertain future. So Executive Director Gary Lacasse and his board put their heart and soul into a forum which saw 75 people living with HIV convene in Regina, Saskatchewan for three days of intense meetings. It paid off.
I have been fortunate enough to have been going to CAS Forums for many years. This was by far the best. And despite the uncertainty around the source of future funding, Lacasse promised there will be more. “I give you my commitment” he told those present ”that there will be a forum in 2018”. Indeed, the forum was forward looking with the usual board nominations and resolution process appropriate to an organization that sees its operations as ongoing. “Trust us” said Lacasse on the PHAC funding situation. “We lost round one but this is not the end.”
Lacasse said he has told PHAC “we are not closing”, instead advocating for a substantial across the board increase in the federal commitment while also going after every private funding source possible. An announcement on future action CAS intends to take is imminent.
He also dispelled any sense of rivalry with the troubled Canadian Positive People Network (CPPN). “I truly hope from the bottom of my heart” he said “for CPPN to be a thriving organization”.
The Forum saw 63 scholarships awarded in a competitive process that had more applicants than ever before. The host city of Regina was not the convening organization’s first choice – they wanted Vancouver B.C. The cost proved too high. Still, the Hotel Saskatchewan in the heart of Regina provided a worthy home base, not to mention food and accommodation that disappointed nobody.
Discussions were far ranging. If there were themes that emerged they were of fully engaging two populations in particular - youth living with HIV and the disengaged. (I believe about 20 of those present counted themselves as independents – not affiliated with any AIDS Service Organization). And funding, funding, funding.
Also focused on were the Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) movement – I spoke on this to a standing ovation - and the future of the AIDS Quilt (it’s housed at CAS HQ in Ottawa but there is an interesting project underway to give it a thriving online presence). There was much support for Forums like this to continue.
Clearly Lacasse, an HIV-negative man himself, is a passionate advocate for people living with HIV fully on side with the importance of preserving the Forum. It must be remembered though that CAS is an organization that supports and is answerable to its member organizations. Still, a powerful message from Forum participants that this year’s event was a winner and we want - no, need - more like it will do wonders to prop up his claims for ongoing funding. So to those who attended, our work continues . . .