AIDS Hits Women Harder, Warns Vatican

Cardinal Lozano Barragán Stresses Scope of Pandemic

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 24, 2004 ( The Vatican says the impact of HIV/AIDS on women, whose infection rate higher than men’s, «increases inequality and hinders progress toward the universality of rights.»

This statement appears in the message of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers for World AIDS Day, which will be observed Dec. 1, and which, on this occasion, the United Nations has dedicated to women because of their greater vulnerability in contracting the HIV/AIDS virus.

In fact, a «study has demonstrated that women are infected 2.5 times more than men,» warns the dicastery’s president, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, in a text published today by the Fides agency.

«I share the concern of the international community about the dramatic picture of the consequences of this epidemic for the health, living conditions, the prospects, the status and the dignity of women and girls in many regions of the world,» the cardinal writes.

«The Church has always defended women and their very great dignity with especial vigor and is struggling to fight those examples of discrimination which still today in a great deal of our society require greater efforts to secure the elimination of disparities in relation to women,» including in the area of health, he says.

«Indeed, the impact of HIV/AIDS on women aggravates inequality and hinders progress toward the universality of rights. In addition, the more this infection advances among women, who are the columns of families and communities, the more the danger of social breakdown increases,» the cardinal states.

Since start of the epidemic in the 1980s, more than 22 million people have died from AIDS. Currently, 42 million live with the HIV/AIDS virus, one of the greatest health challenges at the world level.

Echoing U.N. data for this year, the pontifical council points out that in 2003 some 2.9 million people died of AIDS and 4.8 million were infected with HIV. AIDS is the main cause of death in the 15-49 age bracket.

In Africa, especially, the AIDS epidemic has spread fast. By 2025, AIDS is expected to be the cause of death of 31 million in India and 18 million in China.

Between 2001 and 2003 the global number of children who were left orphans because of AIDS rose to 15 million from 11.5 million, the majority in Africa. It is estimated that by 2010 there will be 18.4 million HIV/AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa.

On numerous occasions, John Paul II has expressed his concern about the epidemic and has appealed to authorities and scientists to work for the eradication of this plague, and has emphasized the care and service that must be given to AIDS patients.

Cardinal Lozano Barragán says that «in his message for 2005 World Day of the Sick, the Pope emphasizes that the AIDS tragedy manifests itself as a ‘pathology of the spirit’ and that to combat it in a responsible way it is necessary to increase prevention through education in the sacred value of life and formation in the correct practice of sexuality.»

In addition to this point, the cardinal proposes as a means to combat HIV/AIDS, as he did before the United Nations in 2001, the elimination of every form of discrimination against any one with the infection.

He also advocates appropriate information on the pandemic, greater participation of civil society in the struggle against AIDS, greater attention to the more vulnerable social groups, and greater care for seropositive children and the protection of AIDS orphans.

There must also be support for global plans to combat HIV/AIDS, he says. Governments must be invited to create suitable conditions to combat this scourge, and industrialized countries must be asked to help countries that need assistance in the campaign against AIDS «in a way that avoids all forms of colonialism,» the cardinal contends.

In addition, he calls for a reduction in the price of anti-viral drugs and medicines for patients.

Cardinal Lozano Barragán says that the Catholic Church «has always made her contribution both to preventing the transmission of the HIV virus and to looking after AIDS victims and their families at the medical/assistance, social, spiritual and pastoral levels.»

More than a quarter of the world’s AIDS-treatment centers are Catholic.

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