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US Bishops Impressed With AIDS Work in Southern Africa
Bronwen Dachs
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Wednesday, September 09, 2009
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PRETORIA, South Africa (CNS)—Members of a U.S. Catholic bishops' delegation visiting southern Africa said they were impressed with the church-run programs that treat and care for AIDS orphans and those infected with HIV.

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City said he was particularly "touched by the number of volunteers" involved in the efforts, noting that they "make it possible to get the services to the people" who need them.

The bishop was part of a U.S. bishops' delegation visiting southern Africa Aug. 26-Sept. 6. Participants visited Zimbabwe Aug. 26-28, then traveled to South Africa, where most remained until Sept. 6.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington who joined the delegation Aug. 31, and several others traveled to the landlocked kingdom of Swaziland and saw households where orphaned teenagers are raising their younger siblings.

They visited St. Philip's Hostel for AIDS orphans, run by the Cabrini Sisters, who also care for victims of rape.

"It was wonderful to see the courage of these children, and I am grateful that people in the U.S. have a role to play in helping them," he said, noting that this help "is a great blessing for everyone."

Swaziland has a population of 1.2 million, two-thirds of whom live in chronic poverty. It also has the world's highest HIV-positive rate.
Members of the bishops' delegation also met with staff at the U.S. Embassy to Swaziland in Mbabane in an effort to arrange for U.S. government funding for church-run HIV and AIDS projects. The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, provides extensive funds for the AIDS projects run by the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, which includes the bishops of Swaziland, South Africa and Botswana.

Bishop Wester, who visited AIDS projects in the Tzaneen Diocese in South Africa's Limpopo province, said he was "very impressed" with the parish-based services, including HIV-prevention programs, antiretroviral treatment and home-based care.

The Tzaneen Diocese runs three AIDS projects—funded by the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services—that provide HIV testing, counseling and antiretroviral drugs.

The diocesan clinic in Tzaneen has "grown by word of mouth" since it opened in 2004, said Sister Anita O'Leary, a member of the Sisters of St. John of God who is responsible for the diocese's AIDS work.

"People see their neighbors getting better and so they come here to be treated," she said.
Those who have the support of their families and are open about having HIV "have the greatest success," Sister O'Leary said, noting that there is still much stigma associated with AIDS in local communities.

Anastasia Brown, director of refugee programs for the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, said she was impressed by one woman waiting in a line for antiretroviral drugs at the Tzaneen clinic.

The woman stood up and said, "You can take my picture" when the U.S. delegates said they would not be photographing patients because of privacy concerns.

The woman's words "show one needn't hide in the shadows," Brown said.

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