BY CHRISTINA FARRELL
THI. DIRE( IOR of Cafod has welcomed a joint American/British initiative to tackle the AIDS pandemic.
Chris Bain, who was appointed to head the Catholic development agency earlier this year, was part of a select group of charity advisers and Aids workers who met with Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W Bush during the American leader's state visit to Britain.
At the meeting, last Thursday, President Bush and Mr Blair announced the establishment of a joint US/UK taskforce to deal with the worldwide spread of HIV and Aids.
The taskforcc, to be co-ordinated in America by Randall Tobias, will initially target Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zambia. Kenya and Uganda.
Mr Bain said the initiative was "very encouraging" and
marked a "sea change" in how the two governments approach the issues raised by HIV/AIDS.
He said: "There was a strong feeling that both governments are willing to listen to their African counterparts and treat the issue of HIV/AIDS holistically. HIV/AIDS is not just a health issue, it is a poverty and justice issue and that was recognised by those present in the meeting this afternoon."
Cafod maintains the only way to tackle HIV is to deal with the problems that underlie and exacerbate the spread of the disease: poverty, lack of education, inequality between the sexes and the burden of foreign debt carried by affected countries. The charity has also pushed for anti-retroviral drugs to be made both available and affordable for the countries affected.
Mr Bain said he welcomed the opportunity to talk directly to the President who he described as "engaging and attentive". He said: It's not every day that you shake the hand of the world's most powerful man and have an opportunity to feed into an initiative that could save millions of lives."
He added: "Cafod has a widely acknowledged experience in dealing with HIV and Aids issues across the developing world and it was extremely rewarding to be invited to share our experiences with a man who could really make a difference to the growing problem."
Mr Bain said Blair and Bush seemed "genuinely committed" to eradicate I•IIV and Aids. "A measure of this will be both countries turning their words into action," he said.