South African Bishops Conference to care for 60,000 AIDS patients

.- Management of a large South Africa AIDS consortium led by Catholic Relief Services will be shifted into the control of the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) and two other local organizations. A recent gathering marked the longtime partnership between the two organizations.

The AIDSRelief consortium supports HIV care and treatment for more than 60,000 people with the assistance of a very large U.S. grant. Part of the support has come through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). St. Mary’s Hospital and the Institute for Youth Development-South Africa will manage the program with the SACBC.

At a Feb. 3 celebration of the partnership between the SACBC and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), CRS South Africa Country Representative Ruth Stark said the event honors the “commitment and success of the Catholic Church in caring for the world’s largest population of people with HIV.”

Speaking to the SACBC, Stark reported that about 150 people attended, including officials from the Catholic Church, the South African government and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“The program ended with most of us in tears when a 12-year-old orphan told the audience about his life and how the services he had received had supported him, emotionally as well as materially. He concluded by saying how happy he was to have had the opportunity to share his story, adding ‘I want to look you in the eye and thank you.’”

Sr. Alison Munro of the SACBC AIDS Office noted that her office was observing the tenth anniversary of its January 2000 reorganization. From meager beginnings, the office now runs PEPFAR-funded anti-retroviral (ARV) projects and projects for orphaned and vulnerable children.

Describing treatment programs, she said the work day at many sites begins with prayers for God’s blessings.

“Priests and others conduct prayer services and run support groups with patients and others affected by AIDS. Caregivers come together for retreats and times of debriefing from the stresses of work. Bishops support the AIDS committees and personnel who are directly involved in the response to AIDS.”

Sr. Munro reported that most patients are serious in their commitment to their treatment and in finding employment.

“Fewer people are dying. Patients like receiving ARV drugs from the ‘Romans’ because they pray over them. Some children assist their parents with adherence to drug regimens,” she added.

She said the total number of people the programs have benefited will not be known by man.

“The ripple effect is impossible to measure. Our efforts may sometimes seem like a drop in the ocean. God who sees all things knows!” Sr. Munro said.

Bishop Frank Nubuasah of the apostolic vicariate of Francistown, Botswana, also addressed the Feb. 3 assembly. Using the metaphor of the Church as a body, he said if a very small part of the Church is sick the whole Church is.

“…and so the Church needs to find ways and means to alleviate the suffering of her members. We go beyond that,” the bishop commented. “We do not discriminate against anyone on grounds of religion or ethnicity. All are sisters and brothers. Jesus is the reason for doing what the Church does. He encourages us to see others as children of God our Father. He inspires us to extend his compassion to all.”

“Even where there are government offices, these close at five o’clock in the evening but the churches doors are open throughout. People in need do not go to the social workers, but to the churches and convents,” he added.

“As a church we are grateful to God for the gift of hope and empowerment that the American people through President Bush’s PEPFAR program gave to some selected countries in the world to be able to respond to the challenge of the AIDS pandemic. We have benefited from this generosity and have made good use of the resources we have received.”

Bishop Nubuasah also praised CRS’ cooperation before singling out for thanks the managers of AIDS relief efforts.

“You have made it happen. You will continue to make it happen and we are proud of you. You are the visible doctrine of the church and the living Bible for others to see the compassionate face of Jesus. God bless you.”

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