African Catholics to Manage US Emergency AIDS Relief Funds

Local Church Recognized for Effective Treatment Programs

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, FEB. 9, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, with other local partners, is being given the responsibility for the administration of a U.S. grant for treating HIV patients.



Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian agency of the U.S. bishops' conference, had been managing the grant money, but recently turned this responsibility over to the Southern African conference as well as to St. Mary's Hospital and the Institute for Youth Development-South Africa.

In a statement released after last week's handover event, Ruth Stark, the head of Catholic Relief Services in South Africa, said the move "honors the commitment and success of the Catholic Church in caring for the world's largest population of people with HIV."

She noted that some "150 people attended, including officials from the Catholic Church, South African government, and 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," Stark said.

She reported that the boy "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.'"

Decision-making power

The U.S. funding for the treatment program now run by the Southern African conference -- which includes the countries of South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland -- is given through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Representatives from the Southern African conference went to the United States in 2003 to appeal for funds and meet with Catholic Relief Services leaders. St. Mary's Hospital was at that time the largest treatment site of the conference, though it is now fully accredited by the Department of Health and thus receives direct funding.

This step of giving more decision-making power to the local AIDS workers is expected to help in the efficacious use of the funding.

Stark told the Associated Press that instead of channeling the funds to local workers, Catholic Relief Services would act as a partner for monitoring the treatment and care while the U.S. grant money is given directly to the South Africans in charge of the programs.

''The person in charge, who is the local partner now, they decide what they need and they pay for it,'' she said.

Stark acknowledged that already the cost difference has been "huge."

Fewer deaths

Sister Alison Munro, head of the Southern African conference's AIDS office, affirmed: "Our efforts may sometimes seem like a drop in the ocean. God who sees all things knows!"

However, the nun added, through these efforts, "fewer people are dying."

She reported: "Most patients are taking seriously their commitment to the treatment given them, getting better, going back to work/finding employment, adhering to treatment regimens."

"Our services are provided in unexpected places and different settings, among them public hospitals, on the factory floor, in church facilities, from the boot of a car, in homes, in after school centers," Sister Munro said.

She added, "The caregivers and project staff often see themselves as continuing the mission of Jesus to bring healing to people."

Catholic Relief Services reported that South Africa is the country with the greatest demographic of HIV patients; some 5.7 million of the nation's 50 million inhabitants are infected with HIV.

Thus far, the program has reached 73,000 people, with 35,000 receiving medications for AIDS.