By Silke Ruprechtsberger, Caritas Austria
“No part of the world is free of HIV or of AIDS. This is more than a problem of individuals – it affects whole families, and it affects whole communities”, said Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, the Special Advisor on HIV/AIDS for Caritas Internationalis , at a 14 June press conference in the run-up to the 18th International AIDS Conference taking place in Vienna between 18 and 23 July.
“We need to help people to learn about the HIV pandemic and how to prevent its further spread.” He and some other leading HIV experts participated in the press conference organized by the Austrian Bishops Conference .
UNAIDS estimated that 33 million people are living with HIV worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most affected area, but numbers also are increasing in Asia and Eastern Europe as does the overall number of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Bishop Franklyn Nubuasah, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Francistown, Botswana, stated, “Aids is a human problem, not solely an African problem.”
During the past few years, much progress has been made with the provision of life-saving anti-retroviral medications to those who need it, especially in developing countries. Forty percent of HIV-positive persons in need of such medications now have access to them; yet there still is a long way to go.
Sister Silke Mallmann who, for years, has been a partner of Caritas in supporting AIDS orphans, said,“Before we had antiretroviral medication, we watched our patients die one by one and leave behind their children.”
She pointed out, in particular, the precarious situation in which HIV-positive women find themselves: “They have a weaker position in society, have to support their family and take over the role of caregiver if other family members are infected. They often are victims of violence.”
People who already are poor are at risk of greater impoverishment when they are living with HIV. “During the last three years, the situation has begun to change, however. We can provide people with antiretroviral medication and many of them even can start to work again. And there also is medication to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission”, says Sister Silke Mallmann.