Jubilee celebrations at Kitovu hospital, Masaka, Uganda. By Geir K. Lindahl, Caritas Norway (The photo does not reflect the HIV status of the individual).
by Rev. Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo
Head of Caritas Internationalis Delegation in Geneva
As a veritable “dinosaur” in following the global response to the HIV pandemic, I recall only too vividly my fist visit to Uganda in the late 1980s, where I observed hospital wards crowded with HIV patients and heard constant cries of grief uttered by relatives who recently had lost their loved ones to AIDS-related illnesses. I also recall the angry insistence of participants from developing countries in attendance at the first International AIDS Conference to be held on African soil, in Cape Town, South Africa, during the year 2000; they insisted that access to life-saving and life- enhancing anti-retroviral medications could no longer be the “elitist” of HIV-positive persons coming from high-income countries. They demanded, in fact, that the global community had a responsibility to supply these medicines to all who needed them. I can never forget the honour and heavy responsibility that I felt when I was called upon, in 2006, by then-Executive Director of UNAIDS, Dr. Peter Piot, to join a small group of “experts” to design a framework for fulfilling that demand uttered at Cape Town – to provide Universal Access to all who needed and wanted it – not only to antiretroviral medications, but also to HIV prevention, support, and care.
I remember, too, the exhilaration, that I felt during a return trip to Uganda when I noticed that the sale of coffins was no longer the “growth industry” there – as a result of the “Lazarus effect” brought about to much more widespread availability of HIV medicines, even for poor HIV-positive persons, who once again were able to work and support their families.
After reading about such positive developments, you may be asking yourself about the reason for the rather pessimistic title for this article. The fact is that, despite progress made in supplying these medicines to some 4 million people living with a diagnosis of AIDS in developing countries, many more need such access (according to UNAIDS, at least 10 million people are in need of the medicines and according to the new treatment guidelines released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in November 2009, that number may be expanded to 14 million. Continue reading