3-December-2012 -- EWTNews Feature |

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Church provides critical care to millions with HIV/AIDS

As efforts to fight AIDS continue to progress, the Catholic Church remains one of the largest providers of HIV/AIDS care in the world, playing a unique and vital role in the battle against the epidemic.

Catholic Relief Services offers "a very wide range of programs" to help those affected by HIV/AIDS, said Karen Moul, communication officer for the agency's global health and HIV efforts.

In a Nov. 30 interview with EWTN News, Moul explained that for the past nine years, Catholic Relief Services has managed an AIDSRelief program in 10 countries, allowing more than 700,000 people to receive treatment or care, including medication, counseling and food.

In the next few months, the leadership of this treatment program will complete its transition to local partners who have been working with the agency throughout the past years.

Dr. Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, called this transition one of "our most exciting achievements."

Woo discussed the progress being made in HIV programs in a message for World AIDS Day, observed on Dec. 1 each year. The day is intended to raise awareness of the estimated 34 million people around the world who are currently living with HIV.

For more than 25 years, Catholic Relief Services has been involved in supporting those who have been affected by the AIDS epidemic. The organization's AIDS-related work reaches 62 countries and will directly help more than 2.5 million people this year.

Moul explained that Catholic Relief Services offers a variety of community-based programs that work to "take care of the whole person," such as home-based care, nutrition aid and care for orphans.

The organization also works with child-headed households, "to make sure that they're in a safe environment, that they have enough food, that they can go to school," as well as offering job training and HIV treatment when necessary, she noted.

"It's really critical that faith-based organizations be involved," Moul said, adding that the federal government recognizes the vital role of religious groups and works closely with them to provide care to those in need.

She highlighted "the ability of the Church to reach into communities" in ways that government hospitals may not be able to.

This is especially true in poor and remote areas, where the Catholic hospital may be the only hospital, she said, explaining that religious groups may provide the majority of the care to people in these regions.

In addition, Moul noted, there has been a growing emphasis on "treatment as prevention," as studies in recent years have shown that HIV-positive individuals receiving antiretroviral therapy have an extremely low chance of passing on the virus to others.

"Our treatment program - in a way, that is a prevention program," she said. In particular, Catholic Relief Services has played a large role in helping prevent mother-to-child transmission.

Treating HIV-positive women while they are pregnant helps protect their children and has led to a significant decrease in the number of babies born with the virus, Moul explained. However, there is still work to be done in helping women receive treatment, especially in poor countries where visits to a doctor may not be routine during pregnancy.

Catholic Relief Services also runs values-based programs for married couples and youth, teaching them to make life decisions based on Catholic teaching as a way of preventing the transmission of HIV.

One program, the "Faithful House" curriculum, helps couples develop communication skills and foster a strong and healthy marriage in order to guard against HIV, she explained, noting that in some African countries, new infections are common within marriages.

While there is still much still to do in the fight against AIDS, tremendous progress has been made, stressed Moul.

She pointed to "really encouraging statistics" showing a significant drop in AIDS-related deaths and a huge increase in the number of people receiving medication in recent years.

"Huge progress has been made," she explained, stressing the importance of determination in order to avoid becoming fatigued.

"We don't want to lose the gains that we've made," she said.

Read more: http://www.ewtnnews.com/catholic-news/US.php?id=6652#ixzz2E2GHcbYQ

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