Calling AIDS the "scourge of the century," Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Sao Paulo told a U.N. plenary session on Monday: "The Holy See, thanks to its institutions worldwide, provides 25% of the total care given to HIV/AIDS victims."
The Brazilian cardinal, who headed the Vatican delegation at the meeting, announced that through the Pontifical Council for Health Care and various Catholic organizations, "the Holy See will have reached its objective of having operational institutions and programs in all the sub-Saharan African countries, and of starting new ones in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Thailand and Lithuania, in addition to those already existing in other countries worldwide."
"They offer wide-ranging services, from awareness campaigns to education toward responsible behavior, from counseling to moral support, from nutrition centers to orphanages, from hospital treatment to home and prison care for HIV/AIDS patients," he said.
The cardinal added that in order to coordinate their activities better, an ad hoc committee has been established for "the fight against HIV/AIDS."
"The committee intends to express particular solicitude for sub-Saharan Africa, where the suffering is most acute, and to pay special attention to the problems of stigma and discrimination accompanying the disease, to access to treatment and care, to education on responsible sexual behavior," he said.
This education, he explained to the delegations gathered at the United Nations, includes "abstinence and marital fidelity -- and to the care of HIV/AIDS orphans."
"With these new initiatives, the Holy See intends to strengthen further its commitment and augment its contribution to the global fight against HIV/AIDS, as it reaffirms its belief in the value and sacredness of every human life," the cardinal emphasized.
Cardinal Hummes also commented on the ravages of the disease among children "either because they have been infected by the virus passed on to them by birth, or because they have become orphans due to AIDS-related premature death of their parents."
"HIV/AIDS is causing a sharp increase in child mortality: 3.8 million of the 19 million who died of AIDS last year were children under the age of 15," he said.
"During the last two decades it has left over 14 million orphans, more than 11 million of whom are in sub-Saharan Africa. And, according to one estimate, by 2010 in Africa alone there will be 40 million AIDS orphans," 95% of whom will be carrying the virus, the cardinal continued.
"Unfortunately, the cost of medical treatment is high and often beyond the reach not only of the poor, but even of those in the middle-income bracket," he said.
Because of this, Cardinal Hummes applauded the World Trade Organization agreement reached Aug. 30, "which will make it easier for poorer states to import cheaper generic pharmaceuticals made under compulsory licensing."
"We dare to hope that more concrete expressions of political will and moral courage like this would soon follow," he added. "All of us -- as individuals and as community -- must be investors in the noble cause of protecting the children and the young from HIV/AIDS infection and rescuing those who already carry the virus, because they are the future of the human race."