To mark World AIDS Day, Caritas Internationalis is calling on its 162 member organisations to support the theme 'Live and Let Live' to eliminate the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS. The Caritas Confederation, which has been involved at the local and international level on HIV/AIDS since the early 1980s, has issued a statement on the theme. Caritas has a long tradition of upholding the dignity of the poor and marginalised, and, true to that tradition, the Caritas Confederation is striving to promote a compassionate, non-judgmental response to people living with HIV/AIDS. While mortality rates from the disease remain shockingly high, for the millions of people worldwide living with the virus, daily life and the struggle to survive with dignity are a constant challenge. According to the latest UN statistics, about 40 million people worldwide are infected with the HIV/AIDS virus. People can and do live with the virus, but they are often victims of discrimination. Ignored by society and neglected by their own family members, colleagues, and friends, many are refused housing, educational services, decent employment, and basic health care. "Poverty and AIDS are intimately connected," said CI President, Archbishop Fouad El Hage. "According to a recent report by the UN's FAO, one of the reasons for an increase in hunger by 18 million people in the 1999-2001 period is HIV/AIDS. Caritas has pledged to combat the pandemic through its particular perspective as a Catholic aid and development organisation. That also means everyone being involved in getting rid of discrimination and stigma, as Jesus did in his day." Many Caritas members are involved at the grassroots in caring for those living with HIV/AIDS, in advocating on their behalf, and in education about the illness. At the international level, Caritas Internationalis is the only non-UN organisation with a Memorandum of Understanding with UNAIDS and has over the years organised many seminars for bishops, priests, religious and laity to promote greater understanding of a pandemic that has killed three million people this year alone. The Caritas Internationalis Memorandum of Understanding with UNAIDS outlines the mutual commitment of both organisations to fight what Pope John Paul II has said, "threatens not just some nations or societies, but the whole of humanity." Caritas and UNAIDS have pledged to work together, from their different perspectives, to promote awareness, especially among young people, to prevent new infections, to advocate for the rights of those infected, and to eliminate discrimination at all levels of society. Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development, and social service organisations (including CAFOD) present in over 200 countries and territories.
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