By Leela Ramdeen
Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
Today, Sunday, December 1, is World AIDS Day. The theme this year is: Communities make the difference.
“A record 38 million people are living with HIV…More than ever we need to harness the role of community led organisations that advocate for their peers, deliver HIV services, defend human rights and provide support…More than 23 million people living with HIV were receiving treatment in 2018” —UN Secretary General António Guterres.
As the UN states, World AIDS Day “is an important opportunity to recognize the essential role that communities have played and continue to play in the AIDS response at the international, national and local levels. Communities contribute to the AIDS response in many ways. Their leadership and advocacy ensure that the response remains relevant and grounded, keeping people at the centre and leaving no one behind.”
Our Church teaches that the life and dignity of every person must be respected and protected at every stage and in every condition. We believe that “every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person” (US Bishops).
In the face of criticism by some who see the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and relationships as barriers to effective responses to HIV and AIDS, we stand firm in our beliefs. It is as disciples that we live our mission to reach out to those who are infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.
Internationally, UNAIDS acknowledges that the Catholic Church is a world leader in the provision of care to victims of AIDS. According to UNAIDS, “the Vatican estimates that Catholic Church-related organisations provide approximately 25% of all HIV treatment, care, and support throughout the world. In 2010, the Vatican reported that more than 5,000 hospitals, 18,000 dispensaries, and 9,000 orphanages, many involved in AIDS-related activities, were being supported by the Catholic Church.”
There are many others who are also working diligently, as we are, to ensure that we meet the target of an AIDS-free world by 2030—one of the Sustainable Development Goals.
On September 10, I attended the second joint regional dialogue with parliamentarians, faith leaders, civil society leaders, national AIDS programme managers and youth leaders at the Hyatt, Trinidad.
The press release from this session included some helpful comments by Ian Ramdahin, Permanent Secretary (ag), Secretariat of the National AIDS Coordinating Committee, Office of the PM, who delivered remarks on behalf of Hon Ayana Webster-Roy, Minister of State in the Office of the PM.
Inter alia, he said: “We can all agree that if we are to collectively work together towards the goal of ending AIDS by 2030, introspection at the ‘individual and regional governance levels’ are necessary for fostering ‘greater collaboration’ among all stakeholders”.
He urged us to “examine societal norms, attitudes and value systems that manifest as communication barriers, which ultimately impede the HIV and AIDS response at the national and regional levels…People are the main determinants in any response and can either make it or break it”.
He warned that “if key populations vulnerable to HIV are allowed to go unchecked, untreated and unsupported in any country, then society as a whole will ultimately suffer”.
He stated that the region recognises that HIV and AIDS are a critical development problem which affects the quality of life, labour, families, communities and the national economy— in the present and future. “We do not want to be in this state, so let us all work together for the common good of humanity.”
We still have much work to do to rid our country and the world of stigma and discrimination in relation to HIV and AIDS. During my recent trip to London I met a former work colleague in a mall. She has been living with HIV for nearly ten years.
She said to me: “Each day I thank God for life. The side effects of the ART (antiretroviral therapy) is not a problem. My problem is the loneliness I feel.” Over lunch I discovered that most people in the flats where she lives avoid her. Research shows that HIV-related stigma can lead to loneliness, depression and isolation. I have put her in touch with a group whose members go out into the community to visit persons who are on their own.
Let us stand in solidarity with those who are infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray by asking the Heavenly Father not for ‘my’ but for ‘our’ daily bread. Thus, he desired every person to feel co-responsible for his brothers so that no one would want for what he needs in order to live. The earth’s produce forms a gift which God has destined ‘for the entire human family’
Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, November 12, 2006
CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee