By Lydia O’Kane
The 1st of December marks World Aids Day and this year’s theme is “Know Your Status”. UNAIDS estimates that more than 9.4 million people living with HIV still do not know their status. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the day which was initiated by the World Health Organization in 1988. So, what strides have been made in treating the virus? One person who has worked for many years on the issue of HIV/AIDS is Monsignor Robert Vitillo.
HIV/AIDS still a real concern
Monsignor Vitillo, who serves as the attaché on health for the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN in Geneva says, “we still need to maintain our concern; certainly, a lot of progress has been made in terms of helping people who know that they’re infected get access to anti-retroviral treatment, which means that they can live in a more healthy way and for much longer, so that’s good progress. But, he goes on to say, “we still have an elevated number of new infections in the world”, and points out that more people need to be tested and diagnosed and therefore, be put on treatment.”
HIV and children
One big problem Mons. Vitillo stresses, is that of children who have been exposed to HIV through their mothers during pregnancy and after birth. There, he says, “less than 52% of children who are exposed to HIV are actually tested, so we could know whether they are infected or not and get them onto treatment”.
HIV/Aids in the world
Speaking about the prevalence of the HIV/Aids in the world, Mons. Vitillo says, “the most important number of infections are in Sub-Saharan Africa… at the same time we have very steep infection rates in Eastern Europe, Russia and many of the former Soviet Union states and also we still have a steady number of new infections in the US, in Europe, in the higher income countries, again because people are not aware that they might be infected…”
Mons. Vitillo notes that World Aids Day’s is very important for raising awareness, but he adds, that one day a year is not enough. He underlines that, in order to keep the spotlight on this issue, “it’s really important for faith based organizations like the many in our own Catholic Church associated will health institutions, with educational institutions and even at parish level to encourage people to think about being tested for HIV and, therefore, knowing whether they’re infected and being able to get access to treatment.”
The Holy See and advocacy
The Catholic Church and especially through the Holy See, the Monsignor points out, has worked extremely hard on advocacy in terms of access to treatment. He adds, that the Vatican has been in contact with pharmaceutical companies to alert them to the special problem of children with HIV.