Saturday, January 20, 2007

An Urgent Call for Action from the National Catholic AIDS Network

I received the following e-mail from the National Catholic AIDS Network and felt it was an important enough issue to post the message here:

People with AIDS do not have to die:
Thousands of lives at stake if PEPFAR isn't allowed to grow

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA Jan 19, 2007 Please review the information below and contact your representative to ensure that the promise level of funding for PEPFAR is allocated.

AIDS Impact on South Africa Four years ago President George W. Bush launched a multi-billion dollar campaign to "meet a severe and urgent crisis abroad." This one wasn't the war against terrorism, or the invasion of Iraq; it was a fight to "turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean." Unlike the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one questioned the legitimacy of this $15 billion, five-year initiative called the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). It won national and international acclaim. But the program is endangered today. In the midst of budget wrangling, Congress is considering maintaining the 2007 budget at 2006 levels, a decision that would ignore the critical increase the President has asked for to maintain and grow PEPFAR's reach.

In South Africa, this fledgling democracy whose very birth benefited from international support, AIDS presents a dreadful challenge that the government cannot combat alone, though it tries. The statistics are horrifying. South Africa has one of the two highest numbers of HIV-positive people in the world. Today, 5.5 million people are infected. Hundreds of thousands of others are infected every year. Some 1,000 people die of AIDS every day in this country. The most vulnerable are the likeliest to become infected by this disease whose consequences reach far beyond
the individual, to the whole family, producing an even broader realm of endangerment. This is especially true of people who live in the remote, rural areas where they are served by local caregivers and agencies like Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and AIDSRelief, its consortium of international partners.

If the budget for these programs does not grow as scheduled, priests, doctors and nurses may not be able to serve those who come for help, a failure that diminishes the dignity and credibility of the server, not to mention the larger benefactor - the United States in this case. The vast majority of AIDS victims are not world wise, though. They are the poorest and most vulnerable people. They live in shacks. They have no water or electricity. They are hungry. I have been to many places where people are so sick, they cannot eat. They have children they cannot feed. They themselves cannot hold on. If you can keep such a mother alive for another year, or another two years, it can make all the difference in the lives of her children. CRS was chosen as a major distributor and manager of PEPFAR's allocation for South Africa, as it can use its widespread Catholic network to reach some of the remotest parts of the country. Working with international partners through its AIDSRelief consortium and with local partners on the ground, CRS has helped save literally thousands of lives.

If PEPFAR funding doesn't increase as it was scheduled to do, in CRS' AIDSRelief program alone, at least 2,500 people targeted for aid will likely die. Their children will become orphans, and - left to themselves with no source of income and no parental guidance - will be at risk to become infected themselves. We have the means to break this cycle. The drugs are available, and there are dedicated people on the ground willing to provide services in communities that would otherwise be neglected. No elaborate facilities are required. Right now, about 10,000 people receive antiretroviral treatment and at least 30,000 people receiving HIV care in 24 CRS service programs throughout the country, mostly in medically under-serviced rural areas. One program operates out of a Catholic hospital. Another provides care from a renovated freight container. One of the most successful is a mobile program operating out of the back of the car, providing care for people who live in shacks with no running water, no toilets and no electricity.

The budget for the third year of CRS' five-year PEPFAR grant was over $15 million dollars in South Africa alone. This year, that number was slated to grow to nearly $19 million. The good being done by this growing program is immeasurable, and will be jeopardized without that increase. HIV infection is preventable and AIDS is treatable. People with AIDS do not have to die. We can prevent many of the conditions that make people vulnerable to infection and conditions like desperate poverty, lack of awareness and information. Existing drugs can save lives, make it possible for people living with AIDS to go back to work, to raise their children, to contribute to the development of the country. The alternative is unacceptable.

Ruth Stark is the South Africa country representative for Catholic Relief Services, based in Johannesburg.


Hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV in the poorest countries of the world could die because the last Congress failed to pass a regular spending bill to fund international assistance programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2007. Instead, the last Congress passed a Continuing Resolution through February 15 that funds international assistance programs at the FY 2006 levels. The new Congress is expected to extend the FY 2007 Continuing Resolution and has indicated that it may maintain the lower FY 2006 funding levels for the rest of the year. This would seriously jeopardize lifesaving programs that serve people living with HIV around the world.

About National Catholic AIDS Network

Giving witness to the Lord Jesus Christ who brings light to all darkness, the National Catholic AIDS Network assists the Church in recognizing the pain and the unique challenges inherent in the HIV/AIDS pandemic and in living out the Gospel mandate by offering compassionate support, education, referral and technical assistance.


About Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services was founded in 1943 by the Catholic Bishops of the United States. Our mission is to assist the poor and disadvantaged, leveraging the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to alleviate human suffering, promote development of all people, and to foster charity and justice throughout the world.
Working through local offices and an extensive network of partners, CRS operates on five continents and in 99 countries. We aid the poor by first providing direct assistance where needed, then encouraging people to help with their own development. Together, these approaches foster secure, productive, just communities that enable people to realize their potential.
As the official international relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic community, CRS is also committed to educating the
people of the United States to fulfill their moral responsibilities toward our global brothers and sisters by helping the poor, working to remove the causes of poverty, and promoting social justice.



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