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 CNS Story:

BERTONE-AIDS Jun-22-2012 (360 words) With photo. xxxi

Top Vatican official calls for free universal access to AIDS therapy

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- The Vatican secretary of state called for free universal access to AIDS drugs and therapy, and insisted it begin by giving the drugs to HIV-positive pregnant women.

"We cannot continue to tolerate the deaths of so many mothers; we cannot think of thousands of babies as a lost generation," said Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The Vatican secretary of state spoke in Rome June 22 during a conference on preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The conference, sponsored by the lay Community of Sant'Egidio, brought together African health ministers, representatives of international organizations and donors supporting anti-AIDS projects in Africa.

The Sant'Egidio Community runs DREAM, a free AIDS prevention and treatment project operating in 10 African countries.

Cardinal Bertone said the results of DREAM and research by the World Health Organization "confirm that universal access to care is achievable, scientifically proven and economically feasible."

"Let us quickly provide AIDS patients with free and effective care," he said. "In the name of the Holy Father, I give voice to the many suffering, the many sick who have no voice. Let's not lose time; let's invest the necessary resources."

Cardinal Bertone said there is an obligation to offer antiretroviral therapy to every HIV-positive pregnant woman to "allow her to give birth to a baby free of AIDS and to raise him."

In Africa, he said, there is no way to provide universal access to the drug therapy without making it free of charge, so governments, international organizations, donors and pharmaceutical companies will have to work together to provide the drugs.

"Today, treatments already let thousands of women give birth to children free of AIDS and to see them grow because the mothers themselves receive treatment," he said. "It is a particularly effective sign of love that defends life."

Cardinal Bertone said a significant percentage of maternal deaths in Africa are tied to AIDS.

According to Sant'Egidio, 60 percent of those living with HIV-AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa in 2010 were women, and AIDS was the leading cause of death in women of childbearing age. Up to 40 percent of maternal deaths in Africa are due to AIDS and its complications, the community said.

END


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