Caritas works to provide health care in emergencies where people are vulnerable to illness and disease. Teams from national Caritas organisations quickly set up temporary clinics to treat water-borne infections and eye, skin and chest conditions. They provide information and supplies to prevent illness spreading. Caritas supports the existing medical services, which may be in danger of being overwhelmed by the crisis.
When there is no emergency, Caritas seeks to keep people in good health, especially the most poor and vulnerable. This means running clinics, dispensaries and screening, prevention and treatment programmes around the world.
Ending the illness and tragic loss of life caused by HIV and AIDS is of major importance. The poorest people in the world’s poorest countries are Caritas’ special focus. It brings medical, social, and emotional support to people living with HIV and AIDS as well as spiritual care.
Caritas pays particular attention to women and their children. Its HAART for Children Campaign promotes the early diagnosis and treatment of HIV in women and babies. The campaign presses for accessible testing programmes and suitable medicines. It advocates for all HIV-positive pregnant women to have antiretroviral treatment, elective caesarean surgery and alternatives to breast-feeding when this is advisable and appropriate.
To unite the efforts of Catholic Church-based programmes in developing countries, Caritas also provides secretariat services to CHAN – the Catholic HIV and AIDS Network.
Children with HIV and AIDS are also more vulnerable to tuberculosis – the combination of the two is often deadly. Caritas incorporates TB into its HAART campaign, pressing for early and effective testing, prevention and treatment. Its TB programmes for adults concentrate on providing medicines and care, training health workers and fighting the stigma and discrimination which too often follow a diagnosis.
Tuberculosis is a disease of poverty and as such, Caritas’ advocacy work concentrates on tackling the root causes of why billions of people live in extreme poverty. Caritas is also raising awareness of the relationship between poverty and illnesses known as non-communicable diseases. These include diabetes, obesity and heart and lung diseases in which the poor nutrition and living conditions of extreme poverty play a part. Caritas runs screening, prevention and awareness programmes with its partners to stop poverty killing the poor.
Health professionals fear a pandemic influenza. Caritas is working in collaboration with other health-related organisations to plan what to do when there is an outbreak. It wants to best utilize its strong network of member organisations, in partnership with local parishes, to provide care, counseling and support. As in any other pandemic, it is the most poor and vulnerable who are disproportionately affected and whose right to health and life must be protected.
As the risk to world health is severe and the challenge to the economic and social wellbeing of any country is daunting, governments and international organisations like the World Health Organization have been preparing for a possible pandemic and planning courses of action. Read more stories about pandemic influenza.