Msgr Robert Vitillo, Caritas’ special advisor on HIV and AIDS talks to the UN’s Non-Governmental Liaison Committee.

NGLS: CARITAS Internationalis has been engaged in the response to HIV and AIDS since the late 1980s. What have been some of the major difficulties your organization has encountered over the years in this regard? Where has the most progress been made?
Msgr Vitillo: Early challenges faced by Caritas included the fear and denial experienced by many in the Church, governments, and civil society with regard to the reach and impact of HIV. More recently, the denial has given way to “compassion fatigue” and questions about whether or not AIDS should continue to receive such priority attention by the global community.

NGLS: Where and in what manner does CARITAS Internationalis carry out its work in relation to AIDS? How does it engage with other faith‐based networks, or civil society at large?

Msgr Vitillo: The members of Caritas Internationalis are engaged in supporting or sponsoring HIV‐related programmes (of treatment, prevention, care and support) in 116 countries of the world. At the global level, Caritas Internationalis works at capacity‐building of its member organizations to deliver effective, efficient, holistic, integrated, and community-based programmes in response to the pandemic.

NGLS: What is CARITAS Internationalis expecting to come out of the HLM in the long term? What gains need to be made? How can political will be generated and sustained to achieve universal access to care, prevention and treatment for all?

Msgr Vitillo: Caritas is seeking action, not just words as a result of this High‐Level Meeting. Governments have made promises in the past, but they often seem to forget those promises. We must note the “treatment gap” – some 10 million people who need the medications at this time but do not have access to them, and some 800 children who die daily as a result of AIDS‐related illnesses. In democratic countries, political will reflects the concerns expressed by the electorate. Thus we need to sensitize the general public issues to these urgent issues – that is the goal of the Caritas HAART (Highly Active Anti‐Retroviral Therapy) for Children Campaign.

NGLS: In your opinion, what is the most urgent step that needs to be taken by the international community to combat the scourge of HIV and AIDS?

Msgr Vitillo: In my opinion an urgent step is that of sustainability. In the face of the global economic crisis and changing priorities, funds to support ARVs are falling or being flat‐lined.