Joining hand to stop AIDS Credits: David Snyder

Joining hand to stop AIDS
Credits: David Snyder

Caritas Internationalis President Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga says religious leaders must be at the forefront of responding to HIV and AIDS.

In a statement to mark World AIDS Day, the Caritas President says that religious leaders can do this by helping to spread accurate information and promoting responsible behaviour to halt the spread of the virus.

Cardinal Rodriguez said, “I welcome the inspiration and motivation provided by the 2007 Worlds AIDS Day theme of ‘Take the Lead. Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise’. Such leadership must be taken on all levels of society in order to respond justly and comprehensively to the global HIV pandemic.

“Religious leaders can, should, and do exercise a leadership role by facilitating accurate information and by promoting responsible behaviour to prevent the further spread of HIV, by giving leadership on providing health, social, and pastoral service to people affected by or vulnerable to the pandemic, and making tangible efforts to eliminate the irrational fear, stigma and discrimination resulting from this global health challenge.

“I am pleased to note that 2007 marks the 20th year since Caritas made and has kept the promise to accompany the leadership of the Catholic Church in its comprehensive response to AIDS,” he said.

Progress has been made in recent years in tackling the global HIV crisis, including expanded access to treatment and increased funding and political will at national and international level. Still, the pandemic is outpacing the response.

UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that 33.2 million people worldwide are living with HIV. In 2007, 2.5 million people – mainly from poorer countries – became infected with the virus, while 2.1 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses.

Caritas says religious leaders can play an important role, too, in demanding greater leadership, political action, and accountability from governments in making universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010 a reality.

Faith-based organisations provide the most care to people living with HIV, as much as 70 percent in some sub-Saharan African countries. Over the years, Caritas has focused on building up the Catholic Church’s response by contributing technical expertise in the design of HIV programmes, training, research, advocacy and information sharing on best practices, and by linking up this response across the international healthcare community.