A message issued by Caritas International today for World AIDS Day speaks to the need to ensure that more children are protected from the virus at birth. Presently 2.5 million children are HIV positive, with the vast majority living in Africa. It is shocking to realize that these figures are still so high, and that 50% of untreated children with HIV die before they are two years old. Of the children with HIV in Africa, UNAIDS reports that only about 26% are receiving the necessary treatment.

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, president of Caritas International, said that this is a life or death situation, and that Caritas “asks Governments and drug companies to support better and earlier testing and treatment for these children.” Caritas invites us to join their HAART for Children campaign.
See: www.caritas.org/activities/hiv_aids/haart_for_children

In North America, the National Institutes of Health(US) announced that a study of an antiretroviral drug approved to treat HIV reduces the risk of acquiring the virus for men who have sex with men. More research is needed to determine whether this will be effective in other at-risk populations. This could be useful in solving the ethical questions surrounding the use of condoms to prevent HIV infection in the marital relationship.

At the same time, scientists have made strides in laboratory experiments using a microbicide gel that stops a wide range of human cells from infection by HIV. This has the potential to be used vaginally if research is successful, again without the moral problems associated with condom use. Work is also underway on vaccines which will allow a great measure of protection for women.

All of this must still take into account Catholic teaching on responsible sexual behaviour, abstinence where possible, and reverence for the marital relationship.
As Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga observed: “We need to give children with HIV the chance to live.” The same applies to their mothers and fathers, wherever they live.