This morning, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB delivered the opening address at the eighth International AIDS Conference, being held at the San Gallicano Institute in Rome under the title: "Long live mothers and children".
In his remarks the cardinal noted that maternal mortality in Africa is, to a large extent, associated with AIDS. "We can no longer tolerate the death of so many mothers", he said. "We cannot think of thousands of children as a lost generation. Nothing is lost; Africa has sufficient resources; it is the continent of hope. Thus we need to make a joint effort ... to protect women in their role as mothers".
"The Church, which is present in countries where the pandemic exists, is extremely concerned at this tragedy of our times. It is a tragedy which swallows many human lives, weakens entire societies, burns up the future. We must do more. The more the infection spreads among women, who are the mainstay of families and communities, the greater the risk of social breakdown in many countries. The sickness of women, of children, of men, becomes the sickness of a whole society".
The Cardinal then recalled how thirty per cent of HIV/AIDS treatment centres in the world are Catholic. Church activities in this field, he said, include "awareness raising campaigns; prevention and health education programmes; support for orphans; distribution of medicines and food; home help; hospitals, centres and communities for the assistance of AIDS sufferers; collaboration with governments; assistance in jails; catechism courses; help systems over the internet, and the creation of support groups for the sick".
"I would", the secretary of State said, "like to make an appeal to the international community, to States and to donors: let us ensure that AIDS sufferers are given prompt, free and effective treatment. Access to treatment should be universal. Let us do this beginning with mothers and children. Here, in the name of the Holy Father, I speak for so many suffering voices, for so many sick people who have no voice: let us not waste time, but invest in the necessary resources. ... Studies by the World Health Organisation confirm that ... universal access to treatment is possible, scientifically proven and economically viable. It is not a utopia, it is possible. ... Yet we cannot conceive of universal access to treatment without taking account of the weakness - especially the economic weakness - of the majority of African people. What is needed is free access to treatment".