The AIDS emergency is centred on the developing world, where millions of people are vulnerable to poverty, hunger and disease. It’s in these countries where whole generations are being wiped out and societies decimated by a disease that is no longer considered life-threatening in richer countries.
Rev. Msgr. Robert J Vitillo is Caritas Internationalis’ Special Advisor on HIV and AIDS. He represents Caritas on AIDS issues, liaises with international bodies, compiles best practices and is responsible for global advocacy, training and education.
“Caritas focuses on the most vulnerable people and provides care, support and treatment to prevent the further ravages of the disease,” said Msgr. Vitillo. Up to two-thirds of people affected are in sub‑Saharan Africa, the poorest region in the world. People in poor nations may not have access to regular food or clean water, let alone the treatment required to keep AIDS under control.
“Caritas has advocated for increased access to anti‑retroviral medications,” said Msgr. Vitillo. “Our work has helped to prolong and improve the lives of many who live with the virus.”
The Catholic Church, through agencies such as Caritas, provides up to 25 percent of AIDS care in Africa. It provides care, treatment and also the psychological support for those who have AIDS, which is still a disease veiled in stigma.
“Church-based health services are often the best in the world,” said Msgr. Vitillo. “They’re not restricted to a privileged few, but they also reach those who have been rejected or forgotten by others.”
Msgr. Vitillo says that one of the big challenges now is to provide children with adequate care and treatment as only 15 percent receive the medicines they need.
“What is especially tragic is that most children who don’t receive treatment will die before their second birthday,” he said.
In 2008, Caritas laid the groundwork for a campaign to hasten diagnosis and provide child-friendly medicines to improve survival rates among children.
“When I first started working for Caritas over 20 years ago, AIDS was synonymous with pain, loss and despair. But as I learn from people with HIV and their families, I see that there are also signs of hope,” said Msgr. Vitillo.