13 September 2008

Join the fight against AIDS in Africa

By Liam Carroll

In rural South Africa the scourge of HIV/AIDS is devastating society and adding to the woes of the nation which inspired the world with its peaceful revolution a few short years ago.

Just south of Durban the municipalities of Umdoni and Vulamehlo have a population of 150,000 people and suffer the terrible distinction of being an epicentre of the HIV/AIDS pandemic worldwide.

It is estimated that up to 40 per cent of the population are infected with the virus. There is 70 per cent unemployment, severe food shortages, and virtually no government access to health care services.

In this deeply rural area of over 1000 square kilometres an estimated 6,500 children have been orphaned by AIDS. There are numerous cases of child headed families: where both parents have died leaving an elder sibling to protect and raise their younger brothers and sisters.

One small NGO is working in Umdoni and Vulamehlo. Established in 2002 in response to the lack of healthcare access for this forgotten population, the Umdoni and Vulamehlo HIV/AIDS Association (UVHAA) is battling AIDS and poverty, day in and day out.

Set up and run by experienced retired health care professionals, UVHAA have three vehicles which deliver teams of trained nurses deep into the hills and valleys, identifying and supporting people who would otherwise often be condemned to a slow, painful and isolated death.

UVHAA's multiple projects aim to save lives, to prevent new infections through education, and to help those who die to die with dignity.

New statistics released in May 2008 show the scale of the AIDS pandemic in South Africa to be even worse than previously estimated: 7.6 million South Africans are now believed to be infected, including 27 per cent of the population aged between 20 and 64. It is estimated that 3.7 million South Africans have died from the disease since 2000.

Norfolk man Tom Potter has been supporting UVHAA since 2004, helping the Association to raise funds. He is appealing to EDP readers to become supporters of UVHAA, in order to assist their essential work.

Tom (34) was born in South Africa and spent a month visiting UVHAA projects this year, in order to gain a deeper insight into the reality on the ground.

During the trip, Tom met numerous people living with AIDS, including eight year old Mkhize who hospital staff believed was too ill to recover, yet after only one week on anti-AIDS (ARV) medication, miraculously Mkhize had transformed from shocking thinness to vigour. As both his parents have died from the virus, Mkhize is now cared for by his aunt. His living and transport costs are covered by UVHAA.

Tom met Innocent, a 28 year old illiterate man living with AIDS who had not eaten for three days and was wasting away. Tom gave Innocent £5 to cover transport costs to the hospital, and explains: "it is possible that this chance opportunity to give such a small sum actually saved this young man's life. It is shocking to realise that the line between life and death can be so thin."

Tom emphasised that it is an honour to be part of an organisation working for these disadvantaged communities: "UVHAA are saving lives, ensuring orphans survive and remain in education, putting pressure on the government to do more in these areas, teaching people better ways to grow crops, and ensuring that there is some support for the people of Umdoni and Vulamehlo. Against all odds, hope exists."

Tom met many inspiring people, including Mrs Ntakka who feeds 45 children each day in her own home. A short video of Tom talking to her can be seen at www.justgiving.com/uvhaa (where one-off donations can be made online).

UVHAA are appealing for individual supporters who can make a regular monthly donation. This is more useful than one off amounts as it enables the Association to plan for the future.

Small amounts of money can make a real difference. £5 per month can pay for transport fees which ensure that a vulnerable child living with AIDS can continue to collect life saving medication.

If you would like to support UVHAA, please email Tom at tompotter1@gmail.com and he will email or send you a donations form. To learn more about UVHAA's work, please visit http://www.uvhaa.com/.

Tom finished his talk with us by emphasising two very important points: Firstly, getting a person onto ARV medication will give 80 per cent of people a healthy and productive life for 10–15 years.

Secondly: in that 10-15 year period, if a cure for AIDS is found: that person's life will truly have been saved.

If you would like to support this small yet dynamic and inspiring organisation, please email Tom at the address above or call 01953 497060.