November 21, 2022
The Honourable David Eby, KC
Premier of British Columbia
Sent via email to: [email protected]
Dear Premier Eby:
Many congratulations on becoming BC’s 37th premier. With your rich history and engagement with civil society and your leadership roles at key ministries, we look forward to working together again. To that end, we write to request a meeting with your office on December 1st – World AIDS Day – to discuss how PAN and our members can support the province’s response to HIV, as well as to the drug poisoning crisis.
December 1st will mark the 35th World AIDS Day and the start of Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week. PAN* and our member organizations will stand with people living with HIV across the world to mark this milestone and remember those we have lost. Here in BC, it is a time to highlight the progress we have made, while reaffirming our shared commitment to address remaining challenges including an ever-worsening drug poisoning crisis.
PAN members play a critical role working alongside and supporting people living with HIV (PLHIV), others with lived and living experiences, and those most at risk, connecting them to testing and treatment, and in accessing harm reduction services and other critical supports. The work happening on the frontlines, complements the key contributions of the BC Centre for Disease Control, our health authority partners, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, and other allies. When it comes to HIV, we should all be encouraged that BC continues to see an overall decrease in new infections and an overall increase in the number of people on treatment. Truly, these are shared successes, attributable to the work and leadership of countless individuals – including PLHIV – and numerous agencies and organizations across the province.
At the same time, we know that challenges persist, particularly with regards to health equity. Indigenous people continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV, hepatitis C and the harms from our poisoned drug supply, with systemic racism and discrimination across our health care and other systems impacting people’s access to care and support. Our province’s commitment to UNDRIP will need to be translated into tangible action such as addressing recommendations from reports like In Plain Sight.
And as you are aware, the drug poisoning crisis continues to decimate individuals, families and communities across the province. It is now the leading cause of unnatural death for all of BC, and second only to cancers in terms of years of life lost. Since the province first declared a public health emergency in April 2016, more than 10,000 people have died – and these deaths were avoidable. Further, from the latest research, we have seen HIV rates spike among drug users in BC during the COVID pandemic, and we know that overdose is the leading cause of death among some PLHIV.
With almost 7 British Columbians dying everyday from drug poisoning there is an urgent need to remove all barriers to an effective response. Community based organizations (CBOs), including peer run organizations lead by people with lived and living experiences, are an under-utilised resource in the toxic drug response, receiving only a small portion of the funding allocated. Run by and for the community, CBOs are best placed to rapidly identify, interpret and respond to community needs and adapt to specific social contexts and emerging health threats like the drug poisoning crisis. The community-based response to the HIV crisis in BC consistently demonstrated that CBOs were the first to identify changes in the epidemic and the first to adapt to these changes.
At this juncture, it is essential that PAN members and other CBOs and peer run organizations are adequately resourced. When it comes to the progress made addressing HIV, now is not the time to take the foot off the pedal. And when it comes to the drug poisoning crisis, in their recent report, the Select Standing Committee on Health recognized the importance of funding the front-line response with this recommendation: Provide sustainable, multi-year funding to community groups, including non-profits and community-led (drug user) groups, that includes accountability measures to support people-centred outcomes.
Premier Eby, we offer ourselves as enthusiastic partners to you and your office. We look forward to discussing with you how working together, we can meet our shared HIV elimination targets, and improve the provincial response to the drug poisoning crisis. Taken together, our members have decades of experience addressing the HIV epidemic and with providing harm reduction services, along with grassroots mobilizing, challenging stigma, innovating, and bringing the voices of people with lived experiences to the table. As a point of remembrance and renewing our shared commitments, we request a meeting with your office on December 1st. If that is not feasible we are also open to meeting before or after that date.
J. Evin Jones
*PAN leads an inspired, strong, and effective community-based response to HIV, hepatitis C, and harm reduction. As a pro-active provincial network of over forty community-based and allied organizations, our work in BC and with partners across the country includes advocacy, policy change, capacity building, leadership training, research and evaluation.