Faith-based organizations working on HIV are experiencing shifts in funding that are reducing their capacity to provide treatment and related services, according to a study presented during the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna.

“There is growing concern that momentum behind the push to fund universal access to HIV treatment is being lost,” says the study, which was presented at a July 21 media conference in Vienna. It was commissioned by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, an international network of more than 50 churches and Christian organizations

Described as a “pilot study,” the research found that the effects of shifts in funding ranged from people being forced off treatment programs, no new people being allowed to join such programs, drug sharing and shortages, and staff layoffs.

The study says funding reductions are also affecting other HIV-related services, such as voluntary counseling and testing, home-based care, social support, and prevention and care for orphans and vulnerable children.

“I am asking the question, ‘Which child do I have to say “No” to?’” the Rev. Richard Bauer, executive director of Catholic AIDS Action in Namibia, told the media conference.

Catholic AIDS Action provides education assistance to 14,000 orphans, and palliative care for 8,000 HIV-positive clients in Namibia.

The study, conducted by consultant Becky Johnson, notes that according to the African Religious Health Assets Program, in rural areas of Africa, faith-based organizations provide 70 percent of health services.

“It really is the faith-based services that have the longest history of being present in rural and remote areas around the world, long before [others] were ready to provide services,” said Norway’s AIDS ambassador Sigrun Møgedal.

Møgedal noted that funding reductions will require all organizations providing HIV services, including faith-based groups, to work together more, and to improve their efficiency.

A Kaiser Family Foundation/UNAIDS report has found that in 2009 global HIV funding declined for the first time since 2002, from $7.7 billion in 2008 to $7.6 billion in 2009. The EAA study sought to determine if faith-based organizations were experiencing a similar decline.

Seventeen of the 19 faith-based organizations interviewed in June 2010 said they had experienced declines in funding or “flat-lined” budgets, while two had no negative funding changes.

The study found that the most common factors for the funding shifts identified by those interviewed were donors’ priorities shifting away from HIV, a decline in funding due to the economic recession, a shift in funding from civil society and faith-based organizations to governments, a delay in funding for grants already promised, and certain countries losing funding because they are perceived as middle-income.

The International AIDS Conference is held every two years. The latest event in Vienna is drawing more than 20,000 medical professionals, scientists, policy makers, persons living with HIV, and others working in the field of HIV and AIDS. The conference runs from July 18-23.

Opening the event, AIDS 2010 co-chair Dr Julio Montaner said the Group of Eight industrial countries had failed to follow through on a 2005 pledge setting 2010 as the target for universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care.

“The G8 has, quite simply, failed us,” said Montaner. “Let me remind you that over the last year, the same leaders had absolutely no problem finding the money on a moment’s notice to bail out their corporate friends, and the greedy Wall Street bankers. Yet, when it comes to global health the purse is always empty.”

During the opening ceremony, activists took to the stage of the conference hall to protest against governments slowing and scaling back commitments on HIV care, treatment and prevention.