“For those who had been infected with HIV or AIDS in the 1990s, that meant a certain death sentence. At the time it affected a particularly large number of young people. The Iris service was created in 1992 to alleviate the psychological suffering of these people and help them cope with the approaching death. 5 years later, Caritas founded the residential community in Haus Emmaus to provide medical and human assistance to the sick there “, recalled the director of Caritas Franz Kripp of the beginnings of the two services, quoting Goethe:” Here I am a person, here I can be myself”.
More than 1500 people accompanied and 200 admitted
Since the first volunteers completed their training, Dienst Iris has accompanied more than 1500 people, providing more than 5000 hours of individual therapy, organizing training courses and building a network of relationships with Haus Emmaus.
About 200 people have been hospitalized at the “Haus Emmaus” in these 25 years, including men and women who are carriers of the virus or who were or are already ill. There, an individual project is developed for everyone, which responds to the specific experiences and needs of the person concerned.
The risks are still great
Since the beginning, the two services have collaborated closely with the Infectious Diseases Department of the Bolzano Hospital, as Dr. Emphasizes Elke Maria Erne, head of the department. She also stated that the introduction of antiretroviral therapies has led to a significant improvement in the quality of life of HIV-positive people.
“With the current definition of AIDS as a chronic rather than a fatal disease, the focus on the HIV virus has changed significantly. This has the negative effect that too little is said about the topic, while the risks are still great, “says Primarin.
Furthermore, there is still a strong stigma linked to contracting the HIV virus, expressed not only medically but also in the form of prejudice.
Voluntary support required
“We have gone from the morbid visibility of the first days with great media coverage to invisibility. Both lead to exclusion and this is exactly what we are trying to counter with our work ”, explains psychologist and psychotherapist Pierpaolo Patrizi, who manages the Iris service.
The support of the volunteers is extremely important, as the volunteer Iris Fera Franceschini testified in her stories at a press conference.
“Do everything possible to create positive experiences for our guests”
The need to speak openly about infectious diseases to combat disinformation and forms of exclusion was also underlined by Katiuscia Cabras, director of Haus Emmaus.
“For us at Caritas this means openly approaching the affected people, listening to them and responding to their ever-changing needs. While we continue to accompany those affected in the last stage of life, we also guide them towards life by taking into account the social aspects for the sick and doing everything possible to create positive experiences for our guests, ”says Cabras.
Other planned activities
He therefore hopes to be able to offer more activities again 2.5 years after the crown pandemic, which will facilitate meetings between the guests of the facility and the company.
Such an event took place, for example, on 11 June with a garden party to which all interested parties were invited. The exchange with the schools should be resumed and for the pilgrims who walk up to Maria Weißenstein (the pilgrimage route starts from the house of Emmaus) it is planned to set up a small refreshment again, as in the times before Corona.
“Finally, I would like to thank all the volunteers and staff of the two services who have worked hard in recent years to fight prejudice and promote the social inclusion of people living with HIV or AIDS. Also fundamental is the close collaboration and networking that Iris and Emmaus have established not only with the infectious disease department of the Bolzano hospital, but also with the addiction counseling rooms, the mental health center and the office for external prisons (Uepe). “, underlined the head of the Caritas office Danilo Tucconi, the good networking of all the actors.