Caritas has reached far beyond its usual partners in order to animate greater solidarity with people living with or otherwise affected by HIV and AIDS.
Nazareth House, a faith-based organization located in Cape Town, was the first Catholic orphan care institution in South Africa to provide paediatric antiretroviral therapy for the HIV-positive orphans it cares for.
The Sisters of Nazareth House are currently caring for 35 children made orphans by AIDS and 20 adults living with HIV, most of whom, due to the complexity or severity of their symptoms can no longer care for themselves or be cared for by their family or community.
Like Nazareth House, many faith-based initiatives have been on the front-line of the epidemic since its devastating effects on the population became apparent in Africa. Nowadays, faith-based organizations, which often reach the most remote communities, as well as being prominent in large urban centres, are uniquely placed to provide a range of quality HIV-related services (from training of home-based caregivers to provision of antiretroviral therapy) to those in need.
However, the valuable work of organizations within the Catholic Church based upon their religious principles sometimes lacked the coordination and level of support needed to improve the effectiveness of their responses to the AIDS epidemic. The South African Bishops Conference realised this and went about coordinating the Catholic Church’s response.
“Since 2000 the SACBC AIDS Office has coordinated the response of the Catholic Church to AIDS in South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana, strengthening and building on existing programmes, as well as helping to initiate new ones. The continuum of Choose to Care in most of the programmes and projects linked to the SACBC has seen commitment to prevention, care and support to people infected and affected by AIDS,” said Mr. Johan Viljoen, Programme Manger of Choose to Care Project.
At first the Choose to Care projects were engaged in providing prevention and care services. However, the provision of treatment to those living with HIV, particularly orphans and vulnerable children, has become one of their main activities. The sites supported by the SACBC providing antiretroviral therapy aim at complementing government programmes in areas where government-funded antiretroviral therapy is not available, notably in resource-poor communities.
Nazareth House was one of the first sites where antiretroviral therapy was provided as part of the Choose to Care initiative. By replicating similar small-scale programmes implemented through the diocesan and parish system, the Catholic Church has been able to scale-up HIV programmes that remain rooted in and responsive to the needs of local communities.
This approach has been proven to be effective as is shown in a study recently researched and written by Rev. Robert J. Vitillo, Special Adviser on HIV for Caritas Internationalis. The study has now been published as part of the UNAIDS Best Practice Collection as an example of how a coordinated response to the epidemic made by a faith-based organization has increased HIV prevention education, care and support to communities affected by AIDS as well as complementing governments’ efforts to achieve universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support.
Networking is not just done on a national level, but internationally as well. Caritas has reached far beyond its usual partners in order to animate greater solidarity with people living with or otherwise affected by HIV and AIDS.
Caritas convened a network of Catholic development, humanitarian, and pastoral agencies from Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, that has been meeting regularly as the AIDS Funding Network Group (AFNG) since 1992 and that recently re-named itself as Catholic HIV/AIDS Network (CHAN).
This group regularly reviews trends in the pandemic to be aware of emerging needs for support by Catholic agencies in low- and middle-income countries. Together with their partners in the South, the AFNG developed principles, guidelines, and funding criteria in order to encourage holistic HIV programming as seen in South Africa.
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