Stepping up the pace – 2014 international aids conference

27 Jul 2014   |   Media release   |   Long-term Development

Monsignor Robert Vitillo, Caritas Internationalis

The 20th international AIDS conference ends in Melbourne today with a clear message: while significant progress has been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, more work needs to be done.

Opening on 20 July, the conference attracted thousands of scientists, medical practitioners and policy makers, as well as activists and people living with HIV. The conference’s theme – ‘Stepping up the pace’ – focused on the critical juncture in current work on HIV and AIDS.

While substantial gains have been made in the antiretroviral treatment of people living with HIV, such treatment is still not universally available. In parts of the developing world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately two-thirds of people living with the virus are located, many struggle to access life-saving treatment. This situation is aggravated by the stigma that many HIV-positive people experience in such communities, which causes them to hide their HIV-positive status and avoid treatment, even when it is available.

To address these problems, the international conference was preceded by a Catholic AIDS pre-conference in Melbourne, which was held from 18 to 20 of July. The pre-conference gathered medical researchers and representatives of Catholic organisations who work with people who are affected by HIV and AIDS.

Through various workshops and presentations, the delegates discussed how current approaches to checking the spread of the virus can be improved. Also noted was the fact that religious leaders could – and should – challenge stigmatising attitudes, as well as encourage the acceptance of HIV-positive people.

One of the conference’s keynote speakers was Monsignor Robert J Vitillo.

In 2005, Msgr Vitillo was appointed the Special Adviser on health and HIV/AIDS to Caritas Internationalis’s delegation to the United Nations in Geneva. Since the 2012 international AIDS conference, there has been a decrease in funding for many faith-based programs for people living with HIV and AIDS.

“We are continually being asked to ‘do more with less’, but, without adequate funding, we cannot maintain high-quality and comprehensive faith-based health care that reaches the most marginalised. Funding cutbacks have caused us to discharge staff, cut down treatment caseloads, and some of our programmes are seeing an increasing number of AIDS-related deaths once again,” Msgr Vitillo said.

Despite these changes, the Catholic Church continues to provide as much as 25 per cent of the care worldwide for people living with HIV and AIDS. Such assistance is critical, given that recent developments in AIDS treatment have caused many to think that the disease is no longer fatal.

“I was in Ukraine last week and someone brought up the need for hospice care for people living with AIDS. Many funders from high-income countries, however, claim that institutional care for such persons is no longer needed and cannot understand that many persons living with HIV in this part of the world are still being diagnosed too late to benefit from antiretroviral medications and are rejected by their families. Because of this, hospice care is the only option,” Msgr Vitillo explained.

Because of such challenges, Msgr Vitillo stressed the importance of continuing the work that is being done around the world.

“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.

Read more about the 2014 HIV and AIDS Catholic Pre conference

Media contact: Nicole Clements 0408 869 833 or nicolec@caritas.org.au.


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