Author Archives: claudmba

The Oscars shine a light on the millions still denied effective HIV treatment

Georgia BurfordGeorgia Burford is CAFOD’s  HIV and AIDS Manager. Here she shares her thoughts on the lessons we can learn from the recent Oscars success of the film Dallas Buyers Club 

The Oscars won by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are tributes to their brilliant, occasionally comic, eventually harrowing performances in Dallas Buyers Club. But as Leto’s acceptance speech acknowledged, the awards are also about America coming to terms with a dark injustice in its recent history, one which finds echoes all over the developing world today.

It seems abhorrent that people affected by HIV would have to form underground buyers clubs simply to get access to the most basic of drugs that would help to prolong their lives. But that is not just how things were in 1980s Texas, it is still the reality for tens of millions of people living with HIV. And the reasons are the same: the stigma and prejudice attached to HIV – so perfectly portrayed and then suffered by McConaughey’s character – remains a huge challenge in many countries across the world, preventing individuals seeking or receiving help just when they need it most.

As a result, Buyers Clubs still exist in many of those countries, requiring the people leading them to risk penalties and punishment in order to provide access to essential drugs. Jay Chin, an activist from China coordinates the SALT campaign – Securing Access to Lifesaving Treatment – which grew from the simple Buyers Club he set up to access generic medicines that were not available in China, taking huge risks in the process.

But even in countries where drugs are provided to HIV patients, the battle remains – just as in 1980s Texas – to ensure they are the right drugs, provided early enough.

HIV candles

Price reductions on generic drug production are crucial if we are to meet this challenge. We can’t afford for already over-stretched healthcare systems in developing countries having to turn people away simply because drug treatment is prohibitively expensive.

CAFOD and our local partners overseas are working hard to increase access to quality HIV treatment. For example, in Cambodia, we have been supporting the local HIV and AIDS Coordinating Committee, which found that many people were being given expired or almost expired drugs. As a result of our joint campaigning, this was brought to the attention of the Global Fund – the UN body set up to fight TB, AIDS and Malaria – and they successfully put pressure on the Cambodian government to strengthen their procurement systems, and change their suppliers. Patients already given the expired medication were supplied with new drugs.

However, though stigma and access to affordable drugs remain major challenges, other complex problems persist which are simply the product of poverty. In parts of East Africa, for example, lack of health clinics mean that many people find out they are HIV positive too late for effective treatment; the equipment needed to monitor progress made on the drugs is not available; thousands of people simply cannot afford to get to the city hospital to collect the drugs, and if they do get there, staff shortages mean waiting times are too long.

This is where the role of local churches in vital. On the face of it, a group of nuns working in a remote village or a sprawling slum in Kenya may not appear to have much in common with Matthew McConaughey’s character, but much of the work they are carrying out is the same; the nuns have the authority, resources and reach to tackle stigma in communities and get support to those who need it most.

The UN has recognised that the work of local church groups in these poorer communities has been crucial in fitting together this complex jigsaw of access to quality healthcare. In Rome, last month, the network of Catholic aid agencies – Caritas Internationalis – met with the UN to discuss how to strengthen and support the role of faith based organisations to help meet their target to reach at least 15 million people living with HIV with antiretroviral treatment by 2015.

Dr Luiz Loures, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, said at the meeting:

“The faith communities have the scale and the means to move us forward. You care about dignity of the person – and it is only this unique combination of access to drugs and dignity that can provide the necessary drive to reach the end of AIDS.”

Since the start of the epidemic, as Jared Leto said last night, 36 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses, and – while it remains a condition that can affect anyone – it is the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world who are most likely to live with it and die from it for lack of basic treatment. We must tackle that injustice, and ensure the film Dallas Buyers Club stands as a fitting testament to the past; not a mirror on the present for many of the world’s poor.

Find out more about CAFOD’s work on HIV>>

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Digging deep for the world’s poorest people: witnessing the charity of Christ

Patrick Gbessay Jamiru has been Director of CAFOD’s partner Caritas Kenema, for over thirteen years. Caritas Kenema is the development and relief office for the Catholic Diocese of Kenema in eastern Sierra Leone.

Patrick is visiting the UK in the run-up to Lent, to talk to CAFOD supporters about the work of Caritas in Kenema and how, with your donations, they can help poor families to earn a living now and in the future.

Jesus Christ is our model and so we take seriously into account  all those values he set before us, which he himself had demonstrated.  Among them is that of charity.

Charity, from the point of view of the Christian faith, is not just giving handouts from the surpluses we have, but it is the ability to share our life with those of our brothers and sisters who are less privileged and cannot stand on their own.

Please join CAFOD to help those who are unable to stand on their own. Please dig deep this Lent>>

Please Dig Deep with CAFOD this Lent to help people in Sierra Leone and around the world to a better future.

Please Dig Deep with CAFOD this Lent to help people in Sierra Leone and around the world to a better future.

Those who find themselves in certain situations either by design or by accident need some intervention.  For example, those struck down by sicknesses, natural disasters, or those whose societies have deprived them of their basic human rights.

Jesus said to his people that he was not there for the virtuous but for those who were of the lost house of Israel; that those who were well did not need a doctor but those who were sick.   He was making reference to the reality our basic Christian principle wants us to pay attention to: that of care and concern for our brothers and sisters who are in dire need.

Some people may say we were all created by God with equal opportunities; therefore, for some it is due to laziness, or for some it is due to carelessness and so we must not care for others.  But in my estimation, our focus must be on those realities that dehumanize our brothers and sisters; those realities which make us agents of our Lord and not judges of their unfortunate situations.

Every Christian is charged with the responsibility of imitating our Lord Jesus and help in his or her own way in the spread of the Gospel and the Gospel values.  It can be education or support to those in hopeless situations.

The social teachings of the church can and should be lived out in diverse ways. The relief and development work of the CARITAS Kenema office in Eastern Sierra Leone helps mostly the poorest of the poor.

It is by sharing all of what life brings and helping people to live a full life demands, we are witnessing the charity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We want to create a world where all people can flourish. Will you dig deep this Lent to give the world’s poorest people a better future?>>

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South Sudanese people still believe in hope

Joseph Kabiru is CAFOD’s Africa News Officer based in Nairobi. He recently travelled to South Sudan, where fighting is causing a humanitarian emergency. Please give to CAFOD’s South Sudan emergency appeal.

South Sudan emergency appeal

South Sudanese people in Juba on a peace march/Photo Joseph Kabiru

On my second day in the South Sudanese capital Juba, I have heard some of the stories of people escaping the violence that erupted last month. In the capital Juba, hidden from the hustle and bustle of a city slowly coming back to normal, are the stories of women and children who have borne the brunt of the suffering.

The streets of Juba can be deceptive to the stranger. They are full of life, signs of a city recovering from recent violent events. Gunshots which were a regular feature of life at night here, are slowly becoming rare.

In the dusty, sandy grounds of St Theresa Catholic Cathedral, I sat with women as their restless children tugged on their arms or legs, wanting to do something more than just sit around and talk. The women told me that their world has been turned upside down by the fighting.

Please help us reach those people caught up in the fighting. Give to our emergency appeal today>>

Stella Jacob, an 18 year old mother of three, gave birth to her six day-old son, Thomas Sebit, on her own. I met mother and baby, plus her two other children, inside the Cathedral compound where they are sleeping on the floor, in an incomplete stone building belonging to the Sacred Heart’s Sisters.

Covering her new-born baby with a mosquito net, Stella told me how she had to flee with her two other children in the middle of the night on December 15 last year when she was 8 months pregnant. “I didn’t even know the baby was due when I went into labour, and the baby came before my mother could summon help,” she told me, her face full of uncertainty. Stella’s husband, had gone to the military barracks for recruitment when fighting broke. She doesn’t know if her husband is dead or alive.

Behind the violence and political posturing, it is ordinary lives that are affected. Mary Abdalla Labalua, a single mother of 12 children, only returned to South Sudan two years ago, to start a new life in her new country after living all her life in Khartoum in Sudan. She came back full of hope for a new life in an independent country, and bought a plot of land and built a new house. It was destroyed within two days of the fighting.

The situation is still tense, the ceasefire is fragile, people are not totally sure what is going to happen next. So, because of the insecurity, I’m not able to travel far outside of Juba. But I have been able to speak on the telephone to CAFOD’s partners in the town of Malakal. Sister Agnes Nyalik told me dogs and chickens were feeding on the rotting bodies of dead soldiers and civilians who were killed in the fierce fighting for control of the town. I was told floating bodies can be seen in the River Nile, which is the source of water for those that are now homeless and living in the church and hospital compounds.

Doctors at the hospital in Malakal are so overwhelmed by the huge numbers of people inside the hospital; they have no way of distinguishing between patients and those looking for shelter.

I was told food – mostly looted from shops and the warehouses of humanitarian agencies – are now being sold at exorbitant prices to anyone who is willing to venture into the streets of Malakal town.

I watched with pride from the comfort of my home in Nairobi as South Sudan peacefully embraced independence on July 9th 2011. Despite the horrors of the violence, the South Sudanese people still believe in hope, they still believe in their new country, they believe that peace and development is their future.

Please help us provide vital aid to those whose lives have been affected by the fighting. Give to our appeal today>>

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Christmas greetings from Abba Solomon

Rhus Beal Lidet or Happy Christmas in Tigrinya!

Christmas in Ethiopia was celebrated on 7 January. Here, Abba Solomon, Sebeya’s Parish Priest, sends us his Christmas message.

If you would like to send a message back to Abba Solomon and the community in Sebeya, please add a comment below.

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Look at us! An agricultural worker from Israel tells her story

Sheherezad Issa is an Arab agricultural labourer in Israel. There are thousands of agricultural jobs in Israel, but most of them are filled by  foreign migrant workers brought in on fixed-term contracts. These workers live and work in very exploitative conditions before being deported back to their home countries.  Meanwhile thousands of the Arab women who actually live in Israel are trapped in poverty, and unable to support their families.  Very few jobs are open to them, and most employers tend to exploit them. CAFOD’s partner WAC-Ma’an, is an independent Trade Union that has been helping women like Sheherezad find jobs and assert their rights for the past 7 years.

Sheherezad Issa (far left) marches for workers' rights on International Women's Day

Sheherezad Issa (far left) marches for workers’ rights on International Women’s Day

I began working because my family’s financial situation was bad. My husband’s salary was not enough for bringing up the children and taking care of the house. He worked with an Arab subcontractor and earned minimum wage.

I first worked in agriculture via an Arab labour contractor, but I found out that the company was paying twice what I received – the contractor was making enormous profit at my expense.

That same day I quit work. And I wasn’t the only one – on that day, the whole group of women quit. The contractor called and proposed I return to work for higher wages, but I refused.

Help us protect workers’ rights around the world. Please support CAFOD>>

After some time, my husband quit working with the Arab subcontractor and began working in organized work with a wage slip. I wanted to work in a place like that.

I found work at a packing house, and there I met women working via WAC-Ma’an. They were earning about the same as me, but I paid a lot for transport which they did not. But what caught my attention was that I saw a WAC representative, Wafa Tiara, coming to visit them, to talk with them, help them solve problems, and asked them what they needed or if anything was lacking.

At my company, they would just throw us onto the premises and leave. It made me begin feeling I wanted to join WAC. I asked the other women whether I should, and they strongly recommended it.

With WAC, I receive all my rights and I know what I get per hour. Nobody is employed “under the table” without wage slips, and everyone receives all fringe benefits including vacations. As members we pay a small fee as dues.

A wage slip is proof that the workplace is properly organized. No matter where you work, if you don’t have a wage slip the state does not recognize you as a worker. If you have a work accident and you work without a wage slip, you’re left with nothing. I received my first wage slip when I began working with WAC. I didn’t care about the money – I liked the wage slip itself, because it showed the exact sum I was supposed to receive and detailed my rights. The wage slip showed that nobody was taking advantage of me.

I got married when I was young. When I wanted to work, my mother was opposed but my husband and children supported me because we really needed the money. In any case, in my family everyone knows that I make my own decisions.

I want my girls to study, and if they work, it won’t be just any work, and never via a contractor. And not just my girls – it’s important that everyone gets the benefits they are entitled to.

Help us make a fairer workplace for our sisters and brothers around the world. Please support CAFOD>>

The contractor called and offered me work, but I refused, even though he has work when WAC has nothing to offer. I am not willing to let them take advantage of me. I don’t want to support him or that system of employment. I want him to understand that there is a problem: that workers are not willing to accept exploitation, and perhaps that way he’ll give the workers what they should get.

I would like to make a difference, I would like the state to sort out regular positions for us so we won’t have to rely on the contractors. I send other women to WAC, and encourage all to take part in the march on International Women’s Day and International Labour Day.

I took part in WAC’s International Women’s Day march. I felt that we were strong, united. Women from various towns, from the Wadi Ara region, Jewish women and Ethiopian women marched with us. I want us all to get our rights, and I want all women to be employed.

Places of work do exist, but we can’t access them. I took part in the march because I want to be heard: I felt there were things in me I was unable to express, so I express them on this day. When you march in a march like that, you feel like something is being set loose.

CAFOD is supporting projects around the world to help people living in poverty support themselves and their families by finding real, fair and rewarding work. Please help us continue to support our brothers and sisters who are working to lift themselves out of poverty. Give to CAFOD today>>

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