Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Message from CBCI Office- for WORLDS AIDS DAY

Archbishop Vincent Concessao

The World AIDS Day theme for 2010 — 'Stop AIDS, Keep the promise: Universal Access and Human Rights' — encourages us to work towards strengthening the services offered to People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA). Like many organizations and FBOs the Catholic Church in India also envisages an inclusive society which is non-discriminatory. Therefore, we believe that like any other person the PLHA too have equal dignity in the society and their rights need to be respected. It is important that the PLHA also needs to have access to all available services for their wellbeing.

Ensuring Universal Access:
Unlike in the past, HIV infection is no more a death sentence on the person. Today, with the Anti-retroviral therapy (ART) PLHA can lead a healthy life like people with diabetes and hypertension. Today's available ART effectively suppresses the replication of the virus in the body and keeps progression of the disease under control. The good news is that ART is provided free of cost by National AIDS Control Program of the Government of India. Thus, universal access to treatment has become a possibility.

However, in a country like India one of the major obstacles to universal access to treatment is HIV related stigma & discrimination. Many a time this situation results in overt denial of the rights to covert neglect of the needs of the PLHIV. In this context it is important to build their self-esteem, collective identity and involve them also in addressing the widespread stigma against them.

Another obstacle to the wellbeing of the PLHA is lack of socio-economic support. For PLHIV to sustain in their prolonged ART, they need social and economic support. In this context it is also imperative to integrate the PLHA into our society by working towards their socio-economic rehabilitation. Several government welfare schemes/programs that address the needs of PLHA are available. These schemes need to be identified and made accessible to the PLHA to reap maximum benefits. Concerted efforts need to be initiated towards advocacy and sensitisation among elected representatives at all levels including Panchayat members so that PLHA are not discriminated or denied access to such services.

The Catholic Church and its work in HIV:
The social teachings of the Catholic Church, especially the principle of distributive justice persuades the Church to work towards universal access to services. This is being translated into action in the field of health care through her vast health care network, which is the second largest health care network in India, after the Government of India. With the onset of HIV in India, the Catholic Church had been working actively with the PLHA in areas of HIV prevention, care, and rehabilitative services with the aim of enhancing universal access to PLHA to the available services for their wellbeing.

Under the National AIDS Control Program (NACP –III) and with grants from PFI as part of the Global Fund Round 6 program, the PACT project of CBCI has been setting up Community Care Centers (CCCs) for PLHA in the States of West Bengal, Gujarat, Orissa, Bihar and Chhattisgarh since June 2007. Till October 2010, a total of 48 CCCs have been successfully established during the project, which has enrolled more than 38,300 PLHA for care and support services. Moreover, above 100 PLHA work as project staff whose presence is not only inspirational for their peers but also bring in much more sensitivity and ownership into the project team. This can be considered as a concrete expression and example of the CBCI policy on HIV/AIDS – "Commitment to Compassion and Care".

In addition to the PACT project numerous Nuns' congregations, numerous Religious Men's congregations e.g. Order of St. Camillus, Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI), Catholic Nurses Guild of India (CNGI), Sister Doctors Forum of India (SDFI), St. John's Medical College, Bangalore, Caritas India, all Diocesan Centers for Social Welfare, CBCI Coalition for Aids and Related Diseases (CBCI-CARD), the CBCI-IGNOU Chair for various HIV/AIDS study programs are also involved at the service of PLHA, assisting and enabling them to access the various services available to them. Many are also involved in "Community AIDS Talk" initiatives addressing various dimensions of HIV related stigma and discrimination. This initiative brings several leaders of communities together, who candidly speak about HIV in gatherings to inform people and help them in understanding their role towards building a nurturing and enabling environment for PLHA.

On this World AIDS Day, while commemorating the theme of "Stop AIDS, Keep the promise: Universal Access and Human Rights" I express my sincere gratitude to all our partner orgnisations, key stakeholders and other communities for all that they are doing for the society especially the PLHA and encourage them to continue enhancing the service delivery in an enabling environment that protects and promotes the rights of all PLHA, especially of the poor and the marginalized.

May God bless you and all your initiatives!

With kind regards,
Archbishop Vincent Concessao
Chairman, Office for Health Care
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India