Catholics gathered for the 20th International AIDS Conference worry that medical advances against the HIV pandemic are leading to decreased attention and less funding for the struggle against the deadly virus.
"AIDS is not a designer charity anymore," said Maryknoll Father Rick Bauer, a Namibia-based U.S. missionary from the United States who heads the international Catholic HIV and AIDS Network. "People in the airport ask me what my red ribbon means. Fifteen years ago, everyone knew what it symbolized. Now it's different. The media has dropped us.
"And this comes just as we're starting to believe we might end the pandemic as a global health emergency by 2030," Father Bauer toldCatholic News Service. "To achieve that, however, we've got to get more people on treatment and get their viral loads down. Such treatment is the best prevention, but it's going to be hard to do if we can't keep attention focused on the challenge and if we can't have access to the necessary funding."
Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, a special adviser on HIV and AIDS to Caritas Internationalis, said major strides in AIDS treatment have caused many to think it is no longer a fatal disease. "I was in Ukraine last week and someone brought up the need for hospice care for people living with AIDS, and there was a Western European doctor along who had a hard time with the question. People had to struggle to get the European doctor to understand that people are still dying from AIDS," Msgr. Vitillo said. International donors, particularly the U.S. government, are cutting back support for AIDS programs in countries where growing economies have moved the nations from being considered "poor" to now being labeled "middle income." That's a mistake, AIDS activists argue. "Donor governments want to consolidate their funding and only give big grants and want to give those to government programs. In Asia, for example, more and more governments are being recognized as middle-income economies. So the donors say they don't need money anymore," Msgr. Vitillo said. "It's true that a small number of people are getting richer and richer, and the country's GNP may have risen into the middle-income category, but the situation of the poor is often worse. And some governments claim they can handle all of their own health care, but they really can't, and what they do provide they tend to concentrate in the large cities. As a result, the churches that have been providing care in rural areas have less access to funding today."
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