The 18th international Aids conference in Vienna ended Friday with one strong message: Despite the financial crisis the fight against HIV/AIDS must not decrease.
“We are just at the end of the beginning,” said former US President Bill Clinton in his speech.
At least 25,000 people from all over the world took part in this conference to discuss and to exchange new ideas, new scientific studies but also to exchange good practices and challenges they have encountered. Many people from the Caritas network were among them.
Msgr. Robert Vitillo, Caritas Internationalis Special Representative on HIV and AIDS, said, “Instead of reassurances to provide more AIDS funding, a number of donors are indicating that there may be cutbacks in available funds.”
“For years the Global Fund and others told us to scale up treatment and other support programme, now they suddenly tell us to scale down” said Fr. Richard Bauer, Director of Catholic AIDS Action of Namibia. His organisation serves more than 14,000 AIDS orphans and many people living with the virus.
“What they don’t tell us from Global Fund and PEPFAR is how to do that. So every day I have to decide who should receive medicine and who should not,” he said.
Scientific evidence presented at the conference in Vienna shows that HIV and AIDS treatments are also effective in prevention transmission of the HIV virus.
“If people don’t have access to treatment, we will return to the 1980s where there weren’t enough hospital beds and people were dying without receiving any care,” said Msgr. Vitillo.
Despite the global economical crisis, efforts can’t be reduced now. Funds, such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, PEPFAR (The USA President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) as well as other government and private donors have to commit to take action in order to increase access to HIV medication. Presently, only one-third of the people who need such saving medications actually receive them. That is far from ‘Universal Access’ which was set a global goal by Heads of State in 2006.
The danger of cutbacks in funding affects children even more than adults. Thus, more effort is needed in order to develop “child friendly” medications as well as HIV tests appropriate for children. This is what Caritas is advocating for in its “HAART for children“campaign.
Statistically, one third of children living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa die before they are one year old, and half of them die before their second birthday.
Msgr. Robert Vitillo says, “We have come so far – we cannot give up the struggle until we have achieved the bold goals set by UNAIDS: Zero new infections, Zero deaths due to AIDS, Zero AIDS-related stigma and discrimination.”