By Francesca Merico
International Delegate, Caritas Internationalis
Access to Medicines’ March, Mexico City, 2 August 2008
Walking around the Global Village, with its colorful booths, slogans, and presentations; passing from a session on the Joint Learning Initiative on children and AIDS to one on the Church response to AIDS; playing the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance’s travel restrictions game at the Interfaith Exhibit, I felt the Conference’s hope as well as the challenges and struggles to bring together the many diverse faces of and responses to HIV and AIDS.
However, more than this array of groups and issues discussed, what nourished my enthusiasm were the many extraordinary individuals whom I met. They showed themselves as people whose passion, commitment and leadership is improving the living conditions of many people and children living with HIV.
At “AIDS 2008”, I was honored to meet and work with Mr. Juan Bosco Valle Delgado from the program “Esperanza de VIHda” of the Comision Episcopal para la Pastoral Social and Caritas Mexico; Ms. Beatriz Rebeca Jarero Ramirez from la Méson de la Misericordia Divina in Guadalajara (Mexico); Mr. Hernan Quezada, SJ, a dynamic Jesuit theology student and physician who is coordinating several initiatives on HIV and AIDS in Mexico and who founded a Guadalajara-based program called VIHas de Vida; Bishop Gustavo Rodriguez, President of the National Social Commission of the Catholic Church in Mexico; Bishop Gabriel Penate Rodriguez from la Comision de Salud de Guatemala; and “Laura” who spoke about her life as child born with HIV, who experienced discrimination and, for this reason, prefers to keep her real name secret, who lost her parents due to AIDS related-illnesses, and who found her new “home” and “family” at la Méson. Their contribution often goes unrecognized in international conferences, but they are putting their faith in action as a way to demonstrate their love to God in a tangible and concrete way, and they are making great progress in the response to AIDS.
I also was pleased to meet representatives from Caritas Latin America and the Caribbean. I became more familiar with their activities with and for people living with HIV, and the challenges they are facing in the region. We discussed together ways in which to strengthen the working relationships between Caritas workers on the national, diocesan, and local levels and those of us who try to represent, at the level of the United Nations and other global fora, the engagement and priorities of the global Caritas Confederation. We agreed on the need to share information and to integrate the needs experienced at grassroots level with the programs and guidelines elaborated by UN agencies.
The one-day conference, held on 30 July 2008, for some 35 Caritas delegates from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, Peru, El Salvador, and Panama, and the gathering of representatives of Catholic Organizations attending the International AIDS Conference, hosted, on 5 August 2008, by Caritas Internationalis, Caritas Mexico, CHAN (the Catholic HIV and AIDS Network) and the Jesuit Community in Mexico, as well as the meeting organized by CAFOD and Trocaire, on 3 August, offered productive moments to build knowledge and better coordination among Caritas and Catholic organizations as they strive to improve their response to HIV.
A great achievement of the networking among Catholic organizations that took place during the 2008 International Conference on AIDS was the proposal to establish a global Catholic AIDS Network to boost the Catholic Church’s profile in responding to the HIV pandemic, and to improve contact and information-sharing among Catholic organizations working on HIV and AIDS and with people living with HIV. Representatives of these same Catholic groups also expressed the need for further theological and pastoral reflection on AIDS.
Pediatric AIDS was another major focus of Caritas Internationalis’ advocacy activities undertaken during the Conference. Caritas Internationals has designed an advocacy campaign to raise awareness and to accelerate action on the lack of diagnostics and treatment adapted to children and babies living with HIV in low-income settings. This Children’s Advocacy Campaign on Pediatric AIDS will be launched in autumn by Caritas Internationalis in collaboration with the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, and it will actively involve children to write letter to governments, pharmaceutical companies and media.
The Conference provided an occasion to inform participants about the challenges in achieving access to child-friendly diagnostics and formulations to treat HIV and to encourage action in order to resolve such problems. During the Conference, Caritas Internationalis staff, together with other participant organizations of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, met with officials of several pharmaceutical companies to discuss actions being planned or undertaken by such companies to develop pediatric diagnostic equipments as well as “child-friendly” formulations and fixed-dose-combinations of anti-retroviral medications (ARVs) adapted for use with children living with HIV.