A holistic approach to Aids care

It sounds crass to call it a one-stop Aids shop, but that is exactly what it is.

Amangwe village, about 30km north of Richard’s Bay in KwaZulu-Natal, will become an integrated Aids care centre that looks after both the people afflicted with the syndrome and the social structure that is affected by their illness.

The village grew from the phenomenal success of the Ethembeni Care Centre, a facility established by the Zululand Chamber of Business Foundation (ZCBF) and sponsored by five industrial giants in Richard’s Bay.

In the early Nineties it became clear that Aids was having an effect on the workplace and that there were not enough mainstream medical facilities to offer the specialised treatment required by its victims. The care centre was opened in 1997 and offered a regime of good nutrition, counselling, training in home care, education and support.

“It was pointless just treating the person with the syndrome,” says Jill Stander, HIV/Aids projects manager for the ZCBF.
“Even before we started we knew that we also had to treat the family, either through support and counselling or in how to look after their relatives at home.

“We started to teach people how to grow their own vegetables in order to provide the nutrition required. We taught teachers how to educate children at school in the consequences and impacts of the disease.We offered a small chapel so that people could draw strength through their faith. But we realised quite soon that even this wasn’t enough.”

Cracks began to show once the disease took hold in communities.

“The disease has much wider implications than just one sick person,” says Stander. “If a family member starts showing symptoms of Aids, the whole immediate circle can start to disintegrate. Often they are the breadwinner or the head of a household, so there are implications in terms of income, employment, welfare, education, their legal rights regarding inheritance and property, their prospects of cohesion as a family unit.”

The forestry giant Mondi wanted to assist as part of its social responsibility programme. The company donated an entire village, valued at about R2-million, as new expanded premises. The village used to house forestry workers and has an existing clinic, a crèche, a recreational hall and 52 cottages.

“If we had to build these facilities it would have cost us about R2-million,” says Stander. “We have received further funding to make the village ready for what we have in mind.”

Just as at Ethembeni Care Centre, services at Amangwe village will not be free. The ZCBF will keep these costs as low as possible and draw in sponsors. Staff members are looking at creative ways of subsidising their services and are planning activities that generate income.

The departments of health, education, welfare and labour are expected to open offices at the new village. NGOs such as the Red Cross and hospice will also have a presence, alongside religious organisations and community leaders.

“We want Amangwe to serve as a model for partnerships. To prevent piecemeal approaches to the problem, we want to work together with everyone concerned with HIV/Aids issues to formulate a holistic system.”

Once a patient is admitted, the social fabric of which they are part is taken up at the village. Apart from access to government departments, there are also job-creation services, a craft market, an animal farm, community outreach, a herb and medicinal garden and sports facilities.

“We will have 45 beds, including a paediatric ward, services and programmes for orphans and vulnerable children, and we hope to provide access to education, shelter, health care, legal rights and counselling,” says Stander.

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