Catholic groups to meet ahead of International HIV/AIDS Conference

caritas

Media release, Caritas Australia

It’s estimated that the Catholic Church provides as much as 25 per cent of the care worldwide for people living with HIV, especially in developing countries.

Given the level of care and compassion in response to HIV and AIDS within the Catholic Church, a conference will be held ahead of the 20th International AIDS conference in Melbourne that brings together those engaged in faith-based responses to this epidemic.

The pre-conference is sponsored by Caritas Internationalis, Caritas Australia, St Vincent’s Health Australia and the Catholic HIV and AIDS Network (CHAN). It will enable delegates from Catholic ministries overseas as well as in Australia, to build linkages and exchange best practice on spiritual and pastoral care for those affected by HIV and AIDS, as well as explore the intersection between faith and science in combatting the pandemic.

Monsignor Robert Vitillo, who works for Caritas Internationalis as both Head of Delegation to the United Nations in Geneva and Special Advisor on HIV and AIDS and health, said the pre-conference, Stepping up the Pace; Remembering the Loaves and the Fishes, would look at best practice in HIV and AIDS interventions; scientific developments, advocacy with pharmaceutical companies, access to funding in order to finance church HIV and AIDS programs and ethical issues. He will be in Melbourne for the pre-conference and the main UN Conference.

He noted that since the 2012 International AIDS Conference, the church had witnessed a decrease in funding for many faith-based care and other community-based systems that provide treatment, care, and support for people living with AIDS and HIV and their families.

“Yet we are continually being asked to ‘do more with less’,” Monsignor Vitillo said.

The multiplication of the loaves and fishes is one of the few miracles by Jesus that is recounted in all four gospels. The disciples are given a seemingly impossible task. They simply do not have the resources to feed this huge crowd and momentarily are paralysed. But Jesus showed them how to use few resources in order to feed a crowd of more than 5000. The pre-conference organisers believe that, as Catholic Church representatives gather for AIDS2014, the spirituality of the “Loaves and Fishes” can be their guide in efforts to “step up the pace”.

“This particular conference is important for Australia and for the whole Pacific region, because it’s the first time an international conference of this size in terms of responding to HIV and AIDS is being held in this region,” Monsignor Vitillo said.

“This represents an opportunity to promote behaviour change in order to prevent further spread of HIV in the region and to save lives through early diagnosis and treatment of those already living with the virus. Finally, it will help us to spread the Church’s message of care and non-judgemental compassion for all those living with or affected by HIV.”

“It’s also a time when the researchers present the latest findings that they have in terms of scientific research on treatments, on possible cure in the future and on possible vaccines.”

Monsignor Vitillo said it was also an important opportunity to affirm the fact that the Catholic church had been there since the beginning in terms of responding to HIV and AIDS.

“We have health and social services in the most rural and isolated parts of the world,” Monsignor Vitillo said.

For example, Caritas Australia in partnership with Catholic Health Services in Papua New Guinea, is helping to make prevention the cure for men, women and children most vulnerable to HIV and AIDS through the Sexually Transmitted Infections Management Program (STIMP).

The Catholic pre-conference will be held on 18-20 July at the Catholic Leadership Centre in East Melbourne and will include presentations from His Excellency Tim Fischer, former Ambassador of Australia to the Holy See; Father Rick Bauer, Chair of CHAN; Professor Suzanne Crowe, Associate Director of the Burnet Institute; and Dr Steve Kraus, Asia/Pacific Regional Director of UNAIDS.

To find out more about the pre-conference go to http://bit.ly/stepping-up.
For more information contact: Media Advisor, Nicole Clements on 0408 869 833 nicolec@caritas.org.au