Pope Highlights Society's Indifference amid Growing HIV Infections

People who suffer from AIDS or other infectious diseases should not be victims of prejudice, rejection and indifference, said Pope Benedict XVI on Friday.

"Among the prejudices that hinder or limit efficient care for victims of infectious diseases is the attitude of indifference and even exclusion or rejection which sometimes emerges in a rich society," the pontiff told participants at a conference on the pastoral care of patients with infectious diseases.

The pope's comments come at a time when HIV infection is rising in every region of the world. The United Nations announced Tuesday that an estimated 39.5 million people worldwide are infected with the virus. This year, 4.5 million more became infected with HIV.

Growing numbers have left religious leaders questioning the global will to fight HIV and AIDS.

"The human toll of the epidemic is undeniable and increasing. The statistics represent the lives of our families and friends, our faith communities and our religious leaders. We all must do more,” said Manoj Kurian of the World Council of Churches, according to the Presbyterian News Service.

Although access to treatment has increased with more than 1.65 million people now receiving anti-retroviral treatment, it still falls "far short of the global need," said a statement by the Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

The pope called for renewed efforts to find cures for infectious diseases, including AIDS, leprosy, plague, tuberculosis and ebola, as well as methods of alleviating the suffering of those already infected.

The lack of treatment was not the pope's only concern. He also pointed to "a dangerous social trend" of people's obsession with their own physical beauty, which has led to an attitude of indifference.

"This attitude is even fostered by the image given in the media of men and women who are mostly concerned about their own physical beauty, health and biological vitality," he said, according to Reuters.

Such media portrayal is widespread in the United States which has seen a steady increase of those infected with HIV. In 2005, the United States had 1.2 million people living with HIV, according to the joint report by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, thus ranking the states as one of the top 10 countries in terms of infected people.