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Southern African Catholic Bishops' HIV/AIDS Program to Track Millions Missing Medication

The SACBC Aids Office staff, workshop attendees and Misereor representatives Dr Piet Reijer and Dr Desiree Nzansibira. Credit:SACBC

Members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) have launched a HIV/AIDS monitoring and sensitization program that is aimed at ensuring that millions of citizens in their region who are living with the virus access medication.

In a Thursday, February 3 report, SACBC officials say that the program that is funded by Misereor, the donor agency of the Catholic Bishops in Germany, is to find some 2 million who have tested positive with the virus but are not on medication.

“The South African Government Department of Health (SAGDOH) estimates that there are 2,000,000 individuals that are HIV+ not on treatment. Fundamentally this program is a collaboration between SAGDOH and a faith-based organization funded by Misereor through SACBC to find the ‘missing’ 2,000,000 HIV+ individuals and ensure that these HIV+ individuals receive treatment from SAGDOH,” SACBC officials say in the report.

They add that the aim of the program that will be implemented by the SACBC Aids Office is also to support those who will have been found and ensure that they adhere to the treatment guidelines. 

The officials of the forum that bring together Catholic Bishops in Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa observe that the fight against HIV/AIDS has been neglected as the world focuses its attention on stemming the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“With what we have come to know as the COVID-19 pandemic, one cannot be blamed for having been mistaken into thinking that other serious bodily ailments have gone into oblivion since the majority of focus in the health sector has been placed on combating the Covid virus,” SACBC officials say in the report.

They add, “For some moment some people may have forgotten about the HIV/Aids and its seriousness. Thankfully that cannot be said about the SACBC Aids Office and Misereor who have not forgotten about their Aids project.”

Representatives in the SACBC Aids Program have been drawn from the Catholic Dioceses of Aliwal North, Bloemfontein, Dundee, Durban, Kroonstad, Pretoria and Manzini (Eswatini).

From Misereor, Dr. Piet Reijer and Dr. Desiree Nzansibira who were present at the three-day launch of the program that is set to conclude Friday, February 4 congratulated the SACBC Aids office for the envisaged plans for the success of the project.

Dr. Nzansibira exuded confidence that the SACBC Office would efficiently manage the program, saying, “The work is starting, so we trust in you to use these resources to the right needs but also to the vision of 95-95-95”.

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The 95-95-95 strategy is a percentage target, which was set by the department of health regarding the care, support and treatment of those living with HIV by the year 2030. The aim is to have 95 percent of all people infected with HIV to know their status, and 95 percent of those who know their positive status be put on antiretroviral therapy (ART), and 95 percent of those on ART have an undetectable (suppressed) viral load.

Dr. Nzansibira noted that South Africa can leverage on the existing Church structures to achieve the ambitious 95-95-95 strategy.

“South Africa is clear when it needs to reach the target,” the Misereor official said, and added, “The Catholic Church as a representative of a national entity, active nationwide, gives you that possibility to contribute to this vision. But before that you need to be prepared.”

Dr. Nzansibira emphasized the importance of having expertise and competence “in order for one to understand one’s contribution to this vision, and to know where to start and end.”

In the February 3 report, SACBC officials note that the Aids program will use the Aids Data System (ADS) for monitoring and evaluation purposes. The ADS uses standardized data collection tools to document direct service delivery.

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The ADS is a web-based system developed by SACBC Aids Office and is based on real time; reports can be prepared daily, weekly and/or monthly from the system.

The ongoing workshop and launch of the Aids program is focusing on financial management, service and job description of the site staff, monitoring and evaluation processes, and ADS training and reporting, among other aspects related to the realization of the project.