Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Catholic Relief Services: a leader in HIV Programming

“AIDS is among the greatest development and security issues facing the world today.” – President Bill Clinton

Just this past Monday, December 1st, was World AIDS awareness day and to help increase knowledge of the disease and raise money for research, Loyola is holding a world AIDS awareness week. Tonight the college hosted Laura Collins of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as a guest speaker to not only give insight on the AIDS epidemic but to share information about how we as students can get involved.
Started after World War II and originally named the War Relief Services, the CRS was meant to serve as a temporary service by concerned US immigrants who wished for refugees to be returned to the countries they fled. Today, the CRS now has over 5,000 staff members worldwide and focuses on both disaster relief (man-made and natural) and development (food security, health, water and sanitation, etc.). The fight against HIV is relatively new for the CRS but has become a major focus of the foundation. A recent census has documented over 33.2 million cases of HIV in the world. In 2007 alone there were 2.5 million new cases reported and 2.1 million deaths recorded. This proves that the need for prevention is equal to the need for treatment and care. With 65 million people infected and over 25 million people killed since the disease was first recognized in 1981, the AIDS epidemic has spread throughout the world. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most highly effected area but as the spread of disease has begun to stabilize in Africa there has been a dramatic rise in the number of new cases in Asia. On average there are over 11,000 new cases of infection daily with 95% of these new cases occurring in low or middle-income countries. This statistic alone proves the link between poverty and disease. Of the 11,000 new cases, 1500- 1800 of the infected are children under the age of 15 (mostly newborns). Though these numbers are jaw dropping, the most disturbing fact about HIV is that a majority of people who are infected do not even know. This fact greatly undermines the actual statistics about the disease. Only one in every eight people who want to be tested actually has the ability/ resources to be. This makes containing the spread of HIV almost impossible.
Though HIV and AIDS do pose an increasing threat on the world’s population we are not without hope. It is believed that only a certain percentage of people with HIV require therapy in the form of Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). Many people go on to live both successful and healthy lives despite coping with HIV. But it is not easy to ignore the many lives that HIV and AIDS destroy. It is estimated that in Sub-Saharan Africa over 12 million children under the age of 18 have been orphaned due to the disease. Take into the account the large death toll and it becomes clear that AIDS is something that will not simply disappear which is where many government funded foundation and programs as well as religious charities and groups such as CRS step in. There is a global commitment to help suppress the effect of AIDS on the human population. In the millennium development goals that were set up by many of the world’s leaders at a conference around the time of the new millennium, there was a goal for a halt or reversal to the global HIV epidemic by the year 2015. With the approaching New Year we are a little more than halfway through the proposed time period and although a cure has yet to be found the world remains hopeful.
The CRS operates through partners with the ultimate goal of putting itself out of business. What this means is that instead of running clinics, the CRS provides the capacity for already existing clinics to provide for those in need. The CRS helps its partners provide until their involvement is no longer needed which often occurs through increased interest from those who reside in the community around the clinic. The CRS puts roughly 30% of the money it receives into prevention and 50% of the money into care and support. Aside from simply donating, it is up to us to not only learn about HIV but to act by spreading the word.

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