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Reaching out to the terminally ill

The crippling AIDS virus is creeping into every aspect of South African life and the North Coast is no exception. Carol Markham spoke to people who care for the sufferers.

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Seated are Paul Rouillon, Denise Ireland and Malati Khoza who are cared for by caring volunteers (from back left) Estelle Denner, Sister Sanet van Zyl, Clare Kalkwarf and Father Gérard Lagleder - founder of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard in South Africa.
[NB: None of the patients in the picture has AIDS or is terminally ill - The Care Centre looks not only after hospice patients!]

In the industrial town of Isithebe it is estimated that 80% of the workforce are HIV positive and that within 10 years the entire workforce will be infected.

This doesn't paint a rosy picture for the economy's future but a group of dedicated volunteers are tackling the problem at grassroots level and trying their very best to hold back the disease's stranglehold.

This group of volunteers belong to the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard in Mandeni where they have established a care centre to bridge the gap between hospital care and caring for the ill at home.

The volunteers, carefully guided by Father Gérard Lagleder and Clare Kalkwarf, have also set up mobile home nursing teams who visit the ill and provide training for families in nursing care within their home situation.

Perhaps their most difficult task is the comprehensive AIDS Education Programme which they embarked upon three years ago in which they reach out to communities and raise awareness about the debilitating effects of the disease.

People noticing

"I am a priest and have to officiate at many funerals. I soon realised how serious the problem was when I was burying young girls of 15 years who had died of the disease," said Father Gérard.

The AIDS educating teams, headed by Dr Paul Thabethe, travel into the rural areas and speak to communities about prevention, treatment and counselling using flip charts and pictures to help get the message across.

"People are very accepting of the concept, both young and old. While some have never heard of AIDS, we have noticed that more and more people are attending the workshops and they are starting to ask more questions about the disease," he said.

Unfortunately the people hold many misconceptions about the disease and the task of the AIDS education teams is not easy.

Father Gérard explained that the programme is purely aimed at prevention and those suspected of having the disease are sent to clinics or state hospitals for an AIDS test. The volunteers are not involved in the treatment or provision of medication for patients and merely help in taking care of the terminally ill.

"What people must realise is that the Care Centre is not a hospital. We simply back up the medical fraternity because there is a desperate need for this type of service. We accommodate sick people temporarily but cater mostly for patients who are terminally ill who can no longer be cared for at home."

Feeding scheme

The care centre also runs a feeding scheme for malnourished babies, held fortnightly, where babies are medically examined, treated and fed and where parents are taught how to feed their children properly. Of the 35 babies registered with the feeding scheme, 75% are HIV positive.

"We believe we are filling the gap. There is lots of AIDS information around trying to prevent it. But what happens if you already have it? The hospitals are not coping so we need to bridge the gap which enables us to teach families about the symptoms of the disease and how to take care of their ill at home."

Although they are a Catholic organisation the volunteers welcome patients and visit homes of people of any denomination, creed and colour. Within one year the volunteers at the Care Centre, which was established in 1996, had helped 108 patients, 14 of which were treated as hospice patients.

"There is a desperate need for an institution of this kind because there is not even a hospital or hospice in this area, and just a handful of medical doctors for more than 100,000 people. Home care enables us to alleviate the sufferings of many people and improve their quality of life."

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An Aids sufferer in the Nkobongo area.

the north coast courier ˇ No 514 Vol 13 ˇ Friday May 29, 1998

Minor corrections of the original have been made for this online edition, which are marked in [brackets] or by using Italics.

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