The Catholic aid agency CAFOD has welcomed the new declaration on HIV/AIDS made by the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) this week in New York. However, CAFOD believes any plan for tackling HIV/AIDS must be centred on reducing the poverty that gives the pandemic the environment in which to have such a destructive impact. A spokesman said programmes to address the immediate advocacy, care and prevention issues related to HIV must be backed up by strategies to reduce poverty. Approaches need to go hand in hand. This requires a concerted effort and commitment within and between nations. Countries worst affected by HIV/AIDS cannot be left to carry this burden on their own. No country, regardless of their resources, could cope with the devastation occurring in countries with upwards of 20% of the adult population infected with HIV. The UN Declaration of Commitment is a welcome and important move to assure this concerted response. The declaration sets timetables for countries to develop and implement national strategies to combat HIV/AIDS, set up prevention programmes and provide access to treatment for all those affected. The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, also called for $10 billion a year to respond to the pandemic. Much of the debate surrounding the UNGASS event was on access to expensive HIV treatments rather than on basic health care and relatively cheap drugs to treat many of the common illnesses linked to AIDS. CAFOD agrees with the need to bring down prices of the HIV treatments. But the agency believes that providing basic health care, with supplies of painkillers, drugs for infections like TB, pneumonia, thrush, herpes and the like, could have an immediate impact on the quality of life for millions of people infected with HIV. CAFOD's Head of HIV/AIDS Section, Monica Dolan, said: "There is an undeniable link between poverty and HIV. Conditions of poverty create circumstances that make people more vulnerable to HIV and drastically worsen the conditions of people already infected. Conversely, HIV increases the degree of poverty for the families and communities infected and affected. Unless the international community tackles the underlying roots of the pandemic, the UNGASS Declaration of Commitment and the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS and Health, will only be window dressing." CAFOD is urging rich countries like the US to put more money into combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The US only spends 0.1 percent of its gross national product in overseas aid, lagging behind many developing countries. CAFOD says decisions on how to use this money must be made by national governments and civil society, and not dictated from outside, if the fund is to be effective. CAFOD has concerns that the global health fund may give an undue influence to the World Bank and pharmaceutical companies at the expense of recipient and donor governments and representatives of civil society including faith communities. Dolan said: "The major essential condition for addressing HIV care, support and prevention programmes and for poverty reduction strategies must be national ownership of HIV strategies and poverty reduction plans. CAFOD's experience has shown that such ownership is built on a high level of civil society participation including the participation of people living with HIV/AIDS." Rev. Robert J. Vitillo represented Caritas Internationalis at UNGASS. He spoke about the vital role churches and faith-based organisations have played in fighting HIV/AIDS especially in developing countries. For more information visit the CAFOD website through our Links pages.
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