How Caritas works on Health and HIV

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.

Our key areas on Health & HIV

More than 30 million men, women and children have lost their lives to HIV and AIDS by now – most in the poorest corners of our world. Since 1987, Caritas Internationalis has taken a lead role in promoting just and compassionate care to people living with, or affected by the virus.

More than a quarter of a century on, there is now some good news – deaths have fallen by 30% and more people than ever before have access to medicines.

But worrying new trends are emerging. The World Health Organization has found that AIDS-related deaths rose by 50% amongst 10 to 19-year olds between 2005 and 2012. More are girls than boys due to their lower social status in some countries. The young people who have died usually did not receive antiretroviral treatment when they were young but managed to survive into adolescence. Others have fallen victim to governments’ failures to focus on preventing teenagers from contracting HIV and to provide teen-friendly testing and counseling. The battle against HIV/AIDS is far from over.

A diagnosis of tuberculosis is upsetting – even though a strict treatment regime will usually beat all but the most drug-resistant strains.

But when TB infects someone whose immune system is already compromised by the HIV virus, doctors begin talking of the “deadly duo.” In Africa, at least one person living with both HIV and TB dies every three minutes. Children with TB and HIV who have not been diagnosed and treated, rarely survive beyond their second birthday.

Through its HAART for Children campaign, Caritas is pressing for access to the medications required to treat both TB and HIV to be available in child-friendly forms. Caritas also wants government and the pharmaceutical industry to take determined action by providing diagnostic testing for children in poor and rural environments. Caritas also urges more effective help for adults with TB or those who are co-infected.

Non-communicable diseases
When many people think of illnesses in poor countries, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are what usually spring to mind. But, cancer, diabetes and heart and lung diseases hurt women, men and children in poor countries in exactly the same way as they do in rich ones.

The difference is that people in the developing world do not have the same access to prevention, diagnosis, treatment – or an eventual cure – as their sisters and brothers in the developed world.

Imagine being told someone in your family has cancer and knowing there is little chance of surgery or chemotherapy. Imagine if you are diagnosed as diabetic but there is no insulin to keep you alive. This is the case for millions of people who live where access to specialists, medicines and hospitals is limited.

If you are poor you are at an increased risk of developing a disease like cancer or diabetes – known as non-communicable diseases because people cannot catch them from one another. Poverty itself is one of the four major risk factors – the others are tobacco use, alcohol abuse and an unhealthy diet with little exercise.

Poor people develop non-communicable diseases at an earlier age. They become harder to treat and the patients themselves become even poorer. The medicine or the nutritious food, which can help rebuild their health, is out of their reach. The vicious cycle of poverty has a huge influence over whether sick people will simply live – or die.

Caritas and its fellow Catholic and partner organisations are stepping up their fight against non-communicable diseases with practical programmes on the ground. As prevention is better than cure, Caritas is funding screening for high blood pressure in South Africa, community-based health workers have been trained to raise awareness about lifestyle changes in the Philippines, while in Lebanon prevention work is done at an early age in schools. In Papua New Guinea, programmes to reach men in rural areas are underway.

But Caritas is also raising its worldwide voice to advocate for governments to change their health policies and to pay more attention to these chronic illnesses. Investing in the battle against non-communicable diseases is investing in the future health of our world. Caritas wants attention paid to growing problems such as obesity, which are piling up problems for decades to come in both rich and poor countries.

Influenza pandemic
During the 20th century, three influenza pandemics caused the deaths of millions of people.

The world is overdue another one – but no one knows when or how severe it will be. Caritas is concerned that poor people will suffer disproportionately because they are malnourished or have less access to decent medical care. They may also suffer from compromising health issues, such as HIV and tuberculosis.

An influenza pandemic begins when a new virus – which is markedly different from other strains – emerges and begins circulating rapidly. Caritas understands that very few people will have any immunity and that as many as half of a country’s people may become ill. Death rates will be high. Caritas is working alongside governments and international organisations like the World Health Organization to plan courses of action.

The active support of communities will be essential to the success of even the best-developed plans. Faith communities – like the Catholic Church – will be a valuable public resource. They will be called on to help and their congregations will deliver information, medication and comfort.

With its presence in more than 160 countries, Caritas will have an important part to play in the event of another influenza pandemic.

HAART for children
Caritas’s HAART for Children Campaign wants HIV + women and children diagnosed and treated early. This can make a world of difference in bettering their health and prolonging their lives.

HAART actively works for the prevention of the transmission of the virus to be a priority and for the medicine necessary to be provided.

The HAART for Children campaign promotes the development of a simple and affordable diagnostic test for infants and urges pharmaceutical companies to develop child-friendly antiretroviral medications. It also advocates widely for all pregnant women to be tested voluntarily and to be offered treatment, elective caesarean surgery and alternatives to breastfeeding where appropriate.

Caritas is also actively engaged in “The Global Plan” run by UNAIDS which aims to eliminate new HIV infections among children by 2015 and to keep their mothers alive. It fosters links with the World Health Organization and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. Caritas organizations either directly sponsor or support HIV/AIDS programmes in more than 115 countries.