.- The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo has announced a plan to collect $144 million to be used by Caritas Congo for a three-year HIV and AIDS program. Many of the HIV sufferers are women who had been raped in âacts of war.â
Caritas reports that the funds will be used for education and prevention, treatment and care, and for work against the stigma attached to the disease.
There are about 450,000 people infected with HIV in the Congo, with as many as 50,000 of them being children.
In the east of the country about 1.5 million people have fled their homes because of conflict. This has left women and children vulnerable to rape and HIV infection. In 2006, as many as 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in South Kivu Province. About 10-12 percent of women who were raped are infected with HIV.
Plans for the program have been drafted with the participation of 47 dioceses in the country. The Churchâs widespread network provides access to communities which donât have a solid health infrastructure, Caritas says.
Dr. Bruno Miteyo, Director of Caritas Congo, presented the program at a conference of Congolese bishops in Kinshasa earlier this month. He said that millions of people affected by HIV or AIDS will benefit.
At the meeting, Congoâs government said that faith-based organizations like the Church had a strong role to play and affirmed its commitment to addressing the pandemic.
Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo, Caritas Internationalisâ Special Advisor on HIV and AIDS, was also in Kinshasa. He recounted to Caritas how he had visited the Mama Yemo Hospital during his trip. There, 60 percent of all patients in the Internal Medical Section are living with HIV.
âThe hospitalâs director told me that patients relied on the special social, emotional, nutritional, and spiritual support offered by Church organizations,â he said.
âIn this new AIDS plan, the Church in Congo is providing its resources, expertise, experience, and outreach for this work. We have to hope that government, international agency, and sister Catholic donors will make available sufficient resources to Caritas Congo in order to fulfill its mandate.
"The tragic and systematic [use of] rape as a so-called âact of warâ causes even greater vulnerability to contracting HIV among women who already who already are deprived of control over their lives and prevented from enjoying their God-given dignity," Monsignor Vitillo explained.