Hope Never Dies

Dear Friend,

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Lenten message, calls this solemn season “a privileged time of interior pilgrimage” in which God accompanies us, “sustaining us towards the intense joy of Easter.”

Our Catholic faith in the resurrection, which we anticipate during Lent and celebrate at Easter, teaches us that hope never dies. That is an important truth to keep in mind when confronted with a crisis of the magnitude of the HIV and AIDS pandemic. The toll of this disease is staggering. HIV has infected more than 68 million people and 25 million have died since the beginning of the pandemic. Currently about 43 million people are living with HIV – nearly three-quarters of them in Africa. Its effects have been devastating, and not just on those who contract the virus. It has torn apart families as parents die, leaving countless children orphaned and vulnerable. It creates poverty, as wage earners can no longer work and support their dependents. And the HIV and AIDS pandemic has stigmatized its victims.

What cause is there for hope?

Actually, there is reason to remain optimistic. Effective treatments are becoming more widely available, such as antiretroviral drugs, a combination of medicines that helps reverse the progression of HIV in the body. In many people, the result is so dramatic that it has been dubbed “the Lazarus effect,” after the friend that Jesus raised from the dead. People are carried into clinics on stretchers, on death's doorstep, and in a few weeks are able to walk home to resume their lives and support their families.

Catholic Relief Services is the lead agency in a consortium that is the recipient of the largest U.S. government grant to deliver antiretroviral treatment to people living with AIDS in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.

The treatment is already showing results that one could only call miraculous. There is the story of Doreen Otieno, a flower farmer in Kenya who could not afford the life-saving antiretroviral treatment from private or government health services on the $43 she earned each month. Then, she began receiving antiretroviral drugs through the consortium-supported Nazareth Hospital in Limuru, Kenya. Before, her body was wracked with frequent opportunistic diseases like meningitis. She lost weight and became so weak that she was no longer able to work. After five months of treatment, she regained 18 pounds and became strong enough to return to her work at the flower farm. But the biggest effect, she said, has been in the lives of her children, now 14 and 10 years old. She told us: “Now, the money I used to spend on hospitals is no longer taken from my salary. So now my children are back in school.”

In addition to the 90 local partner treatment facilities that are implementing the antiretroviral therapy program, CRS is helping many other communities to care for their own sick through home-based care programs. The philosophy behind these programs is rooted in the harsh reality of the developing world: Clinics and hospitals are often located miles from rural villages, making them inaccessible for the patients who usually have no transportation other than their own two feet. And the scope of the AIDS pandemic has also strained the resources of existing clinics and health care services. So CRS and its local partners fill a critical gap in the care of people with HIV and AIDS by enabling families and communities to care for the sick in their own homes. These programs provide counseling, health care training and supplies like food, clothing, blankets and medicines. By supporting community volunteers in this way, CRS not only helps to reduce the stigma of the disease, but also keeps families intact and enhances a community's capacity to care for each other as the heart and hands of Jesus.

These are just two initiatives that are helping us to make inroads against a pandemic that is a daunting challenge. But we are compelled by our faith to act – and to never lose hope.

Thank you for your continued support and your prayers.

Ken Hackett

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