(Vatican Radio) Finding funds to continue vital HIV prevention and treatment programmes is one of the key concerns of experts working in the Catholic Church’s AIDS ministry. Following the 20th International Aids Conference that took place last week in Melbourne, Australia, Mgr Robert Vitillo, special advisor on HIV-Aids for Caritas Internationalis, said Catholic centres are now struggling to survive in some countries following funding cutbacks by big donors such as the Global Fund and the U.S. PEPFAR programme.
The five day conference concluded on July 25th with a chorus of international figures calling on governments and organisations to step up the pace in ending discrimination and delivering universal access to treatment, care and prevention.
Mgr Vitillo said while many top scientists recognise the crucial work being done by the Church, it’s also important for Catholic organisations to monitor their achievements which are often more successful than government-run programmes.
Listen to Philippa Hitchen’s interview with Mgr Robert Vitillo on the outcome of the AIDS 2014 conference:
Mgr Vitillo says there’s not much progress in the scientific world towards the development of a vaccine but there is important research into ways of influencing the human genome to reject the HIV virus and ongoing work on treatment with anti-retroviral drugs that can reduce the virus to undetectable levels in a patient’s body…..
There are many Catholic Church programmes involved in encouraging early testing and counselling to help people find out if they are carrying the virus, since “less than half the people who’re infected know they’re infected”, meaning they don’t get treatment and continue to infect others….
The challenge for the Church now, he says, is finding funds to keep these programmes running since both the Global Fund and the US PEPFAR programme are cutting back on funding. He cites the case of the Indian Catholic Health Association which opened 40 community care centres in the most isolated areas where the government was unable to reach people. Following cutbacks by the Global Fund, the Indian government has stepped in but, he says, AIDS related deaths are on the rise again since the government-run programmes do not reach the places and people in the most isolated regions…..
Mgr Vitillo says while there is still much prejudice against the Church’s approach to AIDS ministry, those who work closely with Catholic programmes know and appreciate the valuable role they are making in combatting the killer disease. He notes that four top scientists attending the Melbourne meeting came to speak at a Catholic pre-conference and all recognised the vital role the Church continues to play in fighting discrimination and caring for the most marginalised people such as drug users and members of the gay community. He says UNAIDS also “recognises very clearly the key role the Catholic Church plays in this field and has promised to help us try and attain more funding.” But he also says the Church must be more involved in collecting data about the quality of programmes and the success rates achieved…
Finally Mgr Vitillo notes that the next international AIDS conference will return to Durban in South Africa. It’s a very significant move, he says, recalling the Durban 2000 conference which first put pressure on the international community to cut the price of medicines and step up treatment for those affected by AIDS in all the low income countries.