(Vatican Radio) Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, addressed the UN's High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS Friday. He noted that as many as fifty percent of HIV-positive children die before their second birthday because they lack access to necessary diagnosis, treatment and medication. In fact, he said, the majority of HIV-positive children are not diagnosed until they are four years of age. The Holy See recently took up these concerns by convoking meetings at the Vatican with the executives of drug companies so that a more timely and affordable response can be made to address this tragedy.
Please find the full statement of Archbishop Auza following, delivered in English:
After years of shocking narratives on the loss of health and life among men, women and children living with HIV, my delegation is pleased with the progress detailed in the Secretary General’s Report “On the Fast-Track to End the AIDS Epidemic.” It is indeed heartening to set strategic goals and benchmarks with a view to ending this disease, and to do so within the more comprehensive framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. My delegation, however, urges the international community to pay equal attention to the cautionary note raised in the same Report, namely, that “AIDS is far from over […] despite remarkable progress,” and “if we accept the status quo unchanged, the epidemic will rebound in several low- and middle-income countries.”
In this regard, Catholic-inspired organizations often report the persistent obstacles posed by lack of access to early diagnosis and treatment; by lack of appropriate, affordable, and accessible “child-friendly” formulations and dosages of medications for pediatric use; by changes in funding priorities imposed by donor governments and agencies resulting in disruptions of services for those who do not live in the so-called HIV “hot spots”; by frequent stock-outs of medicines and diagnostic equipment and supplies; by interruptions of treatment, especially of women and young people who are subjected to stigma, discrimination and physical and emotional abuse as a result of their HIV status. While global goals and targets will be essentially moving forward, they must be anchored in reality, integrating the very real concerns that respective countries have in considering the holistic well-being of their people. Discrimination and stigmatization can never be an excuse to exclude or leave anyone behind. Every effort must be made to distinguish between policies that discriminate and stigmatize and those that are put in place to discourage risk-taking behaviors and encourage responsible and healthy relationships, especially among youth. While access to prevention, treatment and health care services must be guaranteed to all, they will never be enough by themselves to end HIV transmission and AIDS. We must continue to address their root causes and promote healthy lifestyles.
The obstacles to eradicating the spread of HIV/AIDS give ample evidence of the fact that in different parts of the world, especially in many regions of Africa, health care is still a privilege of the few who can afford it. As Pope Francis has said, access to health care, treatment, and medicines remains a dream for too many. Health-related issues, such as HIV/AIDS and related infections, require urgent political attention, above and beyond all other commercial or political interests. The international community must find the will, the technical expertise, the resources and the methods that provide access to diagnosis and treatment for all, and not simply for a privileged few, for “there is no human life that is more sacred than another, as there is no human life that is qualitatively more significant than another.”
Presently, as many as fifty percent of HIV-positive children die before their second birthday, because they do not have access to the necessary diagnosis, treatment and medication. In fact, the majority of HIV-positive children are not diagnosed until they are four years of age. Taking up these concerns, the Holy See recently convened two meetings in the Vatican with the executive-level leaders of companies that manufacture pharmaceuticals and diagnostic equipment, in order to plan a timelier and more appropriate response to children living with HIV and tuberculosis. These business leaders, together with representatives of specialized multilateral organizations, governments, religious and other non-governmental organizations, agreed that providing affordable, appropriate, and accessible HIV medicines and diagnostic tools for pediatric use everywhere is an urgent global goal, thus committing themselves to overcoming the obstacles and accelerating access to diagnosis, treatment and medication for children living with HIV/AIDS. The Holy See and all the institutions of the Catholic Church are motivated more than ever to consider the plight of children living with HIV. Together let us muster the will, continue to sharpen the technical expertise already available and find the resources necessary to provide access to diagnosis, care and treatment, not only for a privileged few, but for all.
Thank you, Mr. President.