Category Archives: Health

A place at the main conference table in WHO

Msgr Robert Vitillo speaking at the World Health Organiziation. Credit: WHO

Msgr Robert Vitillo speaking at the World Health Organiziation. Credit: WHO

By Rev. Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo,
Head of Caritas Internationalis Delegation to the UN in Geneva

The view from the main table in the Executive Board Room World Health Organization (WHO) is very different from my usual spot in the WHO – either in the extreme back corner of the room or in one of the upper balconies where one needs opera glasses to observe the proceedings at the “big table”. But , on 3 April, I was given an opportunity to sit at that very table, when I was honoured with an invitation to take part in a panel discussion, together with WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, to launch World Health Day 2007, which also coincided with the 65th Anniversary of the founding of WHO (a birthday cake was provided after the discussion!). Continue reading

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“HAART in Art!”

Stefano Nobile, Msgr Robert J Vitillo from Caritas Internationalis with Luiz Loures, director of UNAIDS executive office and Sally Smith from UNAIDS.

Stefano Nobile, Msgr Robert J Vitillo from Caritas Internationalis with Luiz Loures, director of UNAIDS executive office and Sally Smith from UNAIDS.

Caritas recently employed a new strategy for its advocacy efforts – by participating in an exhibition at the United Nations Centre Geneva as part of the 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council, which was held during March.

The exhibit aimed to raise awareness among government officials and human rights experts about the need to provide access to early diagnosis and treatment for children living with HIV and Tuberculosis. “HAART” is an acronym for Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Treatment, the combination of medicines that keep children healthy despite their HIV infection. Continue reading

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Male circumcision and preventing transmission of HIV from mother to child

What Does Voluntary Male Circumcision have to do with preventing mother-to-child Transmission of HIV? A curious question?  Well,  the Catholic HIV and AIDS Network (CHAN), of which the CI Delegation in Geneva serves as Secretariat and Caritas Ireland (Trocaire) staffer, Ms. Finola Finnan, serves as chairperson, recently provided us with an answer …

For the past two years, CHAN has followed closely the implementation of the UNAIDS- PEPFAR (US government AIDS Initiative) Global Plan to Eliminate New HIV Infections among Children by 2015 and to Keep their Mothers Healthy. In 2012, CHAN pursued research on the number of Caritas and other Catholic Church-related organisations engaged in the Global Plan and found that they were active in all 22 priority countries (21 in sub-Saharan + India) where 90 percent of all mother-to-child transmission occurs.

Recently, CHAN completed additional research on Good Practices among Caritas and other Catholic Church-related organizations in their efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) and to promote early testing and diagnosis among mothers and children who already are living with HIV.

Of course, one major way to stop the transmission to children is to keep their mothers and fathers from being infected in the first place – that’s where male circumcision enters the picture. Studies have shown that men who are circumcised are more than 60 percent less likely to become infected with this virus. Of course, if the men avoid such infection, then there is no danger that wives may be infected by their husbands.

So the CHAN “Good Practice Study”, released, on 7 March 2013,  in Geneva, during the 22nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council, featured the work of Caritas member organisation from USA, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and of Catholic Medical Mission Board, in close collaboration with local Church partners to promote voluntary male circumcision in such countries as Kenya, Zambia, and Nigeria. Other PMTCT efforts by these organisations include formation of support groups for men (so that they will be more open to seek medical check-ups and counseling and to be treated for sexually-transmitted diseases); strengthening communication and marital partnership among couples through CRS’  Faithful House programme; involving husbands in their wives’ ante-natal care visits.

•    The CHAN study also identified a number of additional good practices, including: a voluntary HIV testing initiative conducted as part of the  “Uzima (‘Full Life’) Day”at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic parish in the Kangemi slum of Nairobi;
•    the Association Community Pope John XXIII’s Raimbow Project in Ndola, Zambia, which addresses nutritional needs of malnourished children but combines this with a large-scale VCT (voluntary counseling and testing) programme in the same district;
•    The Association Community Pope John XXIII’s Raimbow Project in Ndola, Zambia, addresses nutritional needs of malnourished children but combined this with a large-scale VCT (voluntary testing and counselling) programme in the same district.
•    Kitovu Mobile AIDS Organisation, sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Masaka, Uganda, solved transport difficulties by delivering ART to clients in hard-to-reach communities
•    Project Hope, an initiative of St. Martin de Porres Catholic Mission Hospital in Njinikom, Cameroon, which operates a “children’s HIV-friendly club” in order to improve anti-retroviral treatment (ART) adherence among some HIV+ 80 children under 15 years of age.

Read in greater detail about these  and other creative Catholic Church-related approaches to stop children from becoming infected with HIV and to diagnose and treat early those mothers and children who already have been infected by following this link:  report by CHAN

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Caritas concerned for migrant health on World Migrants Day

Caritas Jordan medical centre in Amman provides healthcare to migrants. Credit: Michelle Hough/Caritas

Outside the Caritas Jordan medical centre in Amman with staff member Suhad Zarafili (right). The clinic provides healthcare to migrant families.  Credit: Michelle Hough/Caritas

By Msgr. Robert Vitillo, Caritas Internationalis Head of Delegation to the UN in Geneva

In many countries of the world, in both global North and global South, much attention is given to the legal status of migrants. As we observe World Migration Day 2012, Caritas Internationalis wishes to call attention to the full range of needs of migrants, including their right to enjoy good health as well as access to health care.

Much discrimination is experienced by migrants as a result of national and local health policies that are founded on such factors as racial, ethnic, cultural and religious prejudice; xenophobia; fear that migrants drain financial resources from a host population; and misunderstanding or misperception of the contributions made by migrants to host populations. Faith-inspired organisations, such as Caritas, engage in health-related advocacy with migrants in order to assure equitable access to health care, in accord with the vision developed by the Member States of the World Health Organization to assure “Health for All”.

Perhaps such advocacy is more necessary at the present time, than ever before, to strongly encourage national governments to include migrants, especially to include the more vulnerable groups of undocumented migrant women and children, refugees, survivors of human trafficking, in their health care programmes. Continue reading

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World AIDS Day: “Where have we gone, where are we going?

HIV and AIDS programme in Darfur for pregnant women and new mothers.  Credit: Mohammed Noureldin/ACT Caritas

HIV and AIDS programme in Darfur for pregnant women and new mothers. Credit: Mohammed Noureldin/ACT Caritas

An update by Rev. Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, Special Advisor on HIV and AIDS, Caritas Internationalis

HIV: Much progress but still many challenges

World leaders gathered at UN headquarters in June 2011 to assess progress in the global AIDS response. They noted that global HIV incidence was declining, access to combination anti-retroviral treatment was expanding, and a global movement had been mobilized to respect and protect the dignity of all affected by HIV. They affirmed that the HIV response had changed our world by elevating global inequities in health onto the political agenda and placing people at the center of health and development efforts. They cautioned, however, that such accomplishments might be in grave jeopardy due to aid fatigue and an enduring global economic downturn, which were posing threats to future support for essential initiatives.[1]
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World AIDS Day in Papua New Guinea

Women are particularly vulnerable to HIV in Papua new Guinea. But Jean and Janet raise awareness on the issues. Credit: Patrick Nicholson/Caritas

Women are particularly vulnerable to HIV in Papua New Guinea. Jean and Janet raise awareness on the issues through their volunter work at a Church centre in Mendi. Credit: Patrick Nicholson/Caritas

By Patrick Nicholson

Epeanda means ‘return to life’ in the local language of this part of Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands. It seemed a good word to the staff, volunteers and patients of the Mendi Diocesan HIV and AIDS programme to describe their activities.They liked it so much, they ended up using it as a title for a new centre that opened there in 2005.

The Catholic Church’s work on HIV and AIDS in Mendi stretches back to 1995. Then the work revolved around explaining the virus, how it is transmitted and challenging the stigma attached to those people living with HIV.

Sr Gaudentia Meier, a Sister of Divine Providence from Switzerland who works at the centre, said better testing and treatment has changed everything. “Before treatment became available and testing more widespread, we were only able to help people who were infected become accepted within their community,” she said. “All we could do was help them die in peace. We could keep them alive a little longer perhaps, find somebody to care for their children, but there was little else we could do.” Continue reading

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World AIDS Day

More than 30 years into the pandemic, UNAIDS estimates that 34.2 million people worldwide are living with HIV. This number includes an estimated 3.4 million children under the age of 15 years.

The number of people living with HIV increases each year because fewer people are dying, thanks to the increasing availability of lifesaving antiretroviral medication.

The number of people receiving medication rose by 20 percent between 2010 and 2011. Meanwhile, the cost of a year’s supply of the medication decreased from more than $10,000 per person in 2000 to less than $100 in 2011.

Despite this progress, HIV still presents a serious global health crisis. In 2011, more than 7,000 people were infested every day.

Catholic Relief Services (a caritas member in the US)  has been on the forefront of the epidemic since launching our first HIV project in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1986. Today, CRS and its partners directly support more than 4.8 million people affected by the epidemic.

Meanwhile, at the end of the general audience on Wednesday, 28 November , Pope Benedict XVI made the following appeal: “On 1 December World AIDS Day, a United Nations initiative intended to draw attention to a disease that has caused millions of deaths and tragic human suffering, particularly in the poorest regions of the world, where there is very limited access to effective medicines. My thoughts turn in particular to the large number of children who contract the virus from their mothers each year, despite the treatments which exist to prevent its transmission. I encourage the many initiatives that, within the scope of the ecclesial mission, have been taken in order to eradicate this scourge.”

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