11/30/2005, 00.00
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Indian Church to keep its promises in the fight against AIDS

by Nirmala Carvalho
The Bishops' Conference pledges support for medical staff training, providing care to the rural poor and fighting AIDS-related discrimination.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – India's Catholic Church reiterated its commitment to fighting HIV and AIDS, which are quickly spreading throughout the country at an alarming rate.

On the eve of the 18th World Aids Day, the spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) Joseph Babu told AsiaNews that the Church intends to "keep its promises" by providing medical staff training, working on discrimination prevention and  offering care to the poorest AIDS patients living in the remotest corners of rural India.

"Through its network of health care institutions, the Church plans to reach out to rural areas and create awareness for the prevention of HIV/AIDS," he said.

People who have already been infected can rely on Catholic health care facilities, which will continue to practice a 'non-discriminatory' approach, Father Babu noted.

According to the CBCI spokesman, this attitude "will send society a strong message: AIDS patients have the right to a life of dignity like people affected by any other disease".

A recent report on the AIDS epidemic by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS or UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation (WHO) note that in India alone there are some 5.31 million infected people, the highest number in Asia and the second in the world.

The report says that whilst the HIV infection rate has stabilised in some Indian states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, elsewhere the number of infected people is on the rise, especially among high risk groups, pushing the overall national infection rate upward.

One positive note though comes from the low infection rate among pregnant women among the poor in high-density northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

In four cities in the more industrialised western, southern and north-eastern states (Manipur and Nagaland) the proportion of infected pregnant women is 1 per cent.

However, HIV is spreading because of unprotected sex in the southern part of the country, and drug use in the north-east. Moreover, the report noted a significant increase in the number of married women infected by husbands who visit prostitutes.

Mgr Bernard Moras, archbishop of Bangalore and chairman of the CBCI's Commission for Health, urged the community to "observe World AIDS Day as well as AIDS Sunday on December 4, whose theme this year is "Stop AIDS: keep the promise".

In his message for the December 1 event, Archbishop Moras said that for the Indian Church, too, the challenge in the fight against AIDS is "keeping promises".

For this reason, he urged everyone—institutions, parishes, religious congregations and the faithful—to consider the commitments undertaken as a mission, a mission to contain the spread of the virus, ease the suffering of the sick ensuring that they can live in dignity, and prevent discriminations.

In India there are 70 Catholic organisations devoted exclusively to helping abandoned and marginalised AIDS patients. The CBCI's Commission for Health has established a Chair at the Indira Gandhi National Open University with courses on 'HIV and Family Education' along with a Bachelor's degree programme in Social Work.

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