The ‘more’ that is needed – the way forward in tackling HIV and AIDS

23 Jul 2014   |   Blog   |   Long-term Development

Tags:  HIV and AIDS, conference   |   2 comments

Catholic HIV and AIDS conference in Melbourne

Last weekend the Catholic HIV and AIDS Preconference was held in Melbourne – a two and a half day conference preceding the 2014 International AIDS conference. It was an opportunity where people working in the area of HIV and AIDS from a Catholic perspective could gather and share insights.

On the Saturday, we had the privilege of listening to Sr Ivy Khoury, Caritas Australia's Programs Coordinator for Africa, talk about her experiences working on HIV and AIDS programs in Africa. As she began her talk, she acknowledged the people she had met over the years in this work. She then paused for a moment, becoming emotional, as she remembered the many she had looked after who had passed away from the virus.

Later on, someone explained that when Sr Ivy started working in the field, antiretroviral therapy (ART) was not available. People who had the virus would inevitably go on to develop AIDS, and there was nothing that carers such as Sr Ivy could do, but to care for these people as they got sicker and died.

The situation today is markedly different – there is some glimmer of hope. Now, a person living with HIV and on ART can have a lifespan similar to the general population. Now, a person living with HIV doesn’t necessarily develop AIDS, and it is no longer the death sentence that it once was.

We have come very far. Effective treatment is available, but yet there is still lots to do. In low and middle-income countries, only 34% of people who need treatment are on it. “We have the tools, but we need more than this,” said UNAIDS Deputy Director, Dr Luiz Loures during the conference.

Over the weekend, different experts in the field discussed what ‘more’ is still needed:

  • We need to continue raising awareness of the infection and encourage voluntary counselling and testing. The number one reason people don’t access effective treatment is because they don’t know they have the infection.
  • We need to address the ‘social drivers’ and risk factors which are linked to HIV and AIDS. It is not enough to just treat the disease, we need to look at factors which increase people’s risks of getting infected with HIV and developing AIDS. These include issues such as discrimination, lack of eduction, stigma and the inability to healthcare services.
  • We need to focus on vulnerable populations. The people at the margins of society are often those most affected by HIV and AIDS, and are at risk of being ‘left behind’ in the coming years.

The way forward requires more than just a scientific or medical approach. It requires caring for the whole person – the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual; and it requires working with whole communities.

Sr Ivy Khoury at the Catholic HIV AIDS conference

It is about being with the people [living with HIV and AIDS], listening to them and learning from them."
Sr Ivy Khoury

The contribution of Catholic organisations, including Caritas, in this aspect of the work is substantial. “Faith-based organizations have been there from the beginning (of the HIV epidemic) even when we did not know how to treat or what to treat…You have been the voice of the most vulnerable and the outreach hand to the most marginalized communities,” said Ambassador Deborah Birx, Global AIDS Coordinator for the USA Government, during the conference. Catholic organisations are the largest non-government provider of HIV and AIDS care in the world, providing approximately 25% of care.

Throughout the conference, we were privileged to hear about HIV and AIDS programs by Catholic organisations such as Caritas which worked on a whole range of areas, from raising awareness of HIV in communities, to providing home based care to people living with AIDS. It was remarkable to hear the diverse and great work that these organisations have been doing in the field of HIV and AIDS.

One of the most memorable phrases during the weekend was by Sr Ivy, which really expresses the work of these organisations in this area - “It’s not rocket science. It is about being with the people [living with HIV and AIDS], listening to them and learning from them.”

Caritas Australia’s work in HIV and AIDS includes helping people with HIV develop income generating skills, looking after children who have been made orphans by the virus, supporting self-help groups for people living with HIV and AIDS, as well as helping communities advocate for greater access to treatment and care.

Read more about Caritas Australia's work with people living with HIV and AIDS »

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