Banff HIV outreach office closure worries town officials

A decision by Calgary-based HIV Community Link to close its Banff office has some town officials worried.

Calgary-based HIV Community Link redirecting funding of satellite office to target immigrant population

A decision by Calgary-based HIV Community Link to close its Banff office has some town officials worried.

Banff has some of Alberta's highest sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates — including double the chlamydia rate compared with the rest of the province.  

Alison Gerrits, a social planner with the town, said officials were shocked and saddened by the decision to shut down the office, which has operated in various forms for over 20 years.

"I mean our first reaction was great concern and we were deeply saddened and absolutely shocked,” she said.

But according to the Alberta Community HIV Policy and Funding Consortium — the agency that funds AIDS groups — only four new cases of HIV have been diagnosed in Banff in the last few years.

And the town’s rate of HIV infection is on par with the 10-year average across Alberta.

Funding redirected

With provincewide funding requests $1 million over the available budget, the consortium recommended HIV Community Link redirect funding from the Banff office to target immigrants in the Calgary and Brooks area who are from HIV-endemic countries.

And the consortium noted that STI testing and treatment are not affected by the funding decisions since those services are provided by Alberta Health Services and physicians in the Bow Valley area. 

However, Gerrits said the closure of the Banff office will have other ramifications in a town with so many young adults — a third of the population is in their 20s and more than half are single.

“One of the crucial things that this organization did was they distributed condoms for free — 50,000 condoms were handed out for free to the target population every year. And now without this service we’re not entirely sure how or if that’s going to be able to continue to happen,” said Gerrits.

Alberta Community HIV Fund (ACHF) will continue to provide $10,000 annually for HIV Community Link to support outreach services in the Bow Valley region from 2014 to 2017 if the organization deems this to be a priority, the consortium said.