The SACBC AIDS Office, opened in January 2000, helps to co-ordinate the Catholic Church response to HIV and AIDS in South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana. Underpinning the response are the principles of Catholic Social Teaching which recognises the dignity of every human being, the sanctity of life and solidarity. The SACBC AIDS Office is one of the Commissions of SACBC’s Department of Catholic Social Action.
Catholic Medical Mission Board (New York) in partnership with the Bristol Myers Squibb initiative in Southern Africa and Catholic Relief Services (the service arm of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops) provided the initial funding to allow the Catholic Church to scale up its response to AIDS in the most devastated region of Sub-Saharan Africa. Support also came from European Catholic doors agencies as well as from other donors. The Church has supported programmes across a continuum, awareness raising, education and prevention, home based care, TB screening, treatment adherence support, and care for orphaned and vulnerable children and their families.
Throughout the network of service programmes there has been an emphasis on training and capacity building at local level, on retreats and horizontal learning opportunities, on developing networking opportunites and sharing best practice models. The SACBC AIDS Office encourages collaboration at all levels with various inter-faith groups, NGOs, the private sector and government departments to facilitate the provision of services to those in need.
In 2004 Catholic Relief Services was awarded a PEPFAR grant to support treatment in nine countries and the SACBC AIDS Office became the major partner and implementing arm of the programme in South Africa. Treatment sites (plus satellite centres) were established, clinical and support personnel were trained, and patients were initiated on treatment. In 2009 the PEPFAR grant was “transitioned” from Catholic Relief Services to the SACBC AIDS Office. The treatment programme was supported by PEPFAR until mid 2015, with over 45,000 patients initiated on anti-retroviral treatment, and about 45,000 not yet on treatment provided care. With the ending of the grant patients from Catholic facilities were absorbed into the Department of Health Clinics. Some Catholic facilities continued receiving drugs and other assistance to continue services once PEPFAR funding had ended.
Important also is the HIV counselling and testing, TB screening and treatment adherence support for patients on treatment, as part of the Department of Health’s strategy to meet the USAIDs 90/90/90 targets, i.e. having 90% of the population know their HIV status, encouraging 90% of those test HIV positive go on treatment, and having 90% of those on treatment remain on treatment.
Currently the major emphasis of the SACBC AIDS Office is on the care of orphaned and vulnerable children. Donor funding from PEPFAR, the Global Fund and small grants has enabled the SACBC AIDS Office to support over 50 sites (plus satellite centres) providing a number of services to orphaned and vulnerable children, and their families. Since the programme beginnings more than 50,000 children have received educational, health care, paralegal, shelter, nutritional and other support on a regular basis. Parents, guardians and care workers have also received training around HIV prevention and importance of HIV counselling and testing.
Funding from Homeplan and other donors is supporting the construction of simple two-roomed houses in rural areas for orphaned children and their caregivers, in South Africa and Swaziland. About 5oo such houses were completed between mid 2010 and mid 2016.
Church strengths include its communication network, even to remote areas; the faith commitment and response of thousands of ordinary people to the needs around them; people’s enthusiasm in embracing opportunities to serve those in need; working in new partnerships to do the work and embracing new forms of health care and education.