By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
This year’s World Day Against AIDS, organized by UNAIDS and celebrated today, is calling everyone, especially those directly involved in the fight against AIDS, to renew their commitment to prevent this incurable disease which is currently infecting more than 40 million people globally.
Under the campaign slogan, “Stop AIDS. Keep the promise,” the World Aids Campaign, a global coalition of national, regional and international civil society groups, is calling upon governments to honor their commitments to prevent the spread of the pandemic and to care for those afflicted by it.
The Catholic Church, which operates nearly 27 percent of the world’s facilities that are involved in caring for AIDS victims, is actively involved in the campaign.
“The Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care joins with other national and international organizations, and in particular UNAIDS, which every year organizes a world campaign of combating AIDS, so that this planetary evil, which has brought about a global crisis, can be met with an action that is equally global and united,” said H.E. Javier Cardinal Lozano Barragan, president of the Council, in a statement.
Cardinal Barragan goes on to list the dire statistics associated with the AIDS epidemic, such as the estimated 40.3 million people who were infected as of 2005. Of that number, 2.3 million were children under the age of fifteen.
“Year by year the number of people infected by this disease continues to grow,” the Cardinal writes. “In 2005, 4.9 million people contracted the HIV virus, of whom 700,000 were minors under the age of fifteen, and in 2005 3.1 million people died of AIDS, of whom 570,00 were young people under the age of fifteen. HIV/AIDS continues to sow death in all the countries of the world.”
The disease is spread primarily through blood, transmission from infected mother to child, and sexual activity. Great strides have been made in reducing infections through blood transfusions and with drugs that prevent the virus from spreading from mother to child, but much work still needs to be done in the area of sexual transmission.
“The third pathway of infection – sexual transmission – still remains the most important,” the Cardinal says.
“This is greatly fostered by a kind of pansexual culture that devalues sexuality, reducing it to mere pleasure without any further meaning. Radical prevention in this field must come from a correct conception and practice of sexuality, where sexual activity is understood in its deep meaning as a total and absolute expression of the fecund giving of love. This totality leads us to the exclusiveness of its exercise in marriage, which is unique and indissoluble. Secure prevention in this field thus lies in the intensification of the solidity of the family.”
The Church has come under intense criticism in recent years for its stance against the primary means that various global agencies are employing to halt the spread of the disease through sexual contact – condoms.
However, recent research, such as that of Harvard researcher Edward Green, has discredited the idea that AIDS can be stopped with condom distribution programs because this method does nothing to curb the risky sexual practices that are to blame for much of the spread of this deadly disease. Many believe the only way to curb the pandemic is to advocate for the reduction in the number of sexual partners and to stress fidelity and monogamy. The only countries that have managed to reduce their infection rates have done so by employing programs that promote this kind of responsible sexual behavior.
In his statement, Cardinal Barragan suggests that Christian communities continue to promote the stability of the family and the education of children in a correct understanding of sexual activity as a gift of God “for self-giving that is lovingly full and fertile.”
He also calls upon governments to promote the overall health of their populations and asks pharmaceutical companies to facilitate access to anti-viral drugs to the poor. Scientists and health care workers should continue to do everything they can to find a cure, he says, and calls upon the mass media to provide correct and truthful information about prevention to the public “without forms of exploitation.”
In an interview with the Catholic News Agency (CNA), Dr. John Brehany, Ph.D, Executive Director of the Catholic Medical Association said a religious response is needed as well.
“One of the most important things we can do is preach the necessity of converting to the truth,” Dr. Brehany said, emphasizing that a “message of conversion” is needed for everyone.
He advocated not being judgmental “in an improper way” but also called for conversion to the Gospel and not leading “the kind of life that is conducive towards either spreading or receiving AIDS.”
He added: “I hope there will be a day we could all join together and acknowledge and support one another in these things.”
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