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Mozambican Ministries Receive HIV/AIDS Program Support

By Linda Green*

MAPUTO, Mozambique (UMNS) - As many as 1.8 million people in this sub-Saharan country are living with HIV and AIDS, and two United Methodist ministries have received $20,000 in new grants to help citizens affected by the disease.

Bishop Fritz Mutti announced Oct. 31 that two grants of $10,000 each have been awarded to the Chicuque Rural Hospital and the Belshe Orphanage at the Cambine Mission Station.

Chicuque Hospital, according to Bishop João Somane Machado, is a joint project of the United Methodist Church and the Mozambican government.

The United Methodist Church provides professional personnel through the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, additional help through the short-term Volunteers in Mission program, and funds for running the hospital through Advance Specials.

Mutti presented the funds during a visit to the ministries prior to the Nov. 1-6 meeting of the Council of Bishops in Maputo. He and 10 students from United Methodist-related Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo., traveled to the hospital to meet with the program's administrators.

The hospital is taking the lead in establishing the church's response to AIDS in Mozambique, focusing on education, advocacy, home-based care and prevention, Mutti said. "The hospital is doing wonderful work."

"I deeply appreciate this great help," said Machado, who has led the church in Mozambique since 1988. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Every day we face death at Chicuque, and we are trying our best to not only take care of the people who are sick but to also educate the people."

The grants to the two ministries show that "we are one church. When ... one part of the body is not well, the whole body suffers together," Machado said. "The grants say to us that 'we are one with you in the ministry of helping people.' This means a lot to our church."

Global AIDS Fund

The money supporting the programs of care comes from the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. The 2004 General Conference established the fund in an effort to raise $8 million in the next four years - an amount roughly equivalent to every U.S. member of the church donating $1. The fund supports education, prevention, care and treatment programs for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Mutti, chairperson of the fund, said he expects the fund to reach $1 million by the end of this year and to be fully funded by the end of the 2008. He urged the United Methodist bishops of Africa to name AIDS projects in their conferences that need financial support and identify the priorities. "We will try to broker contact with a U.S. (regional) conference to provide the money for grants to your projects," he said.

The grant announcement about the two ministries was made during the Oct. 30-31 meeting of the United Methodist Holistic Strategy on Africa Committee. Executives of churchwide boards and agencies reported on their agencies' work and ministry in Africa, and the African bishops spoke of the continuing tragedy of the global HIV/AIDS crisis.

"In Africa, you can't pass by a family without finding people who have been lost to AIDS," said East Africa Bishop Daniel Wandabula. "We also have a lot of children caring for children whose parents have died from AIDS," he said.

Worldwide, more than 40 million people are infected with AIDS, and more than 25 million people have died from it since the disease came to the public's attention 25 years ago. The people of Africa have been especially impacted, with nearly 30 million people infected. About 58 percent of those infected in sub-Saharan Africa are women, Mutti said.

"Life expectancies are dropping dramatically, and economic development essential for overcoming poverty is threatened," he said.

'Not keeping pace'

Mutti told the committee that it was fitting for the Council of Bishops to meet on the continent of Africa for the first time because the United Methodist Church is needed to "act compassionately to the continuing tragedy of the global HIV and AIDS crisis."

Repeating the numbers impacted by AIDS, Mutti said, "we are doing some good things but we are not keeping pace."

To put a human face on the scourge, he spoke of two of his sons who died from AIDS or complications from AIDS, and how he and his wife, Etta Mae, were compelled to talk about AIDS across the church as a result.

"The personal reality is different from statistics," he said. "We try to talk about the rollercoaster that AIDS is."

In Uganda, fighting AIDS is done through "sensitization," the bombardment of AIDS messages on radio, television and roadside ads, and education, Wandabula said.

The African culture is "one of shame," Wandabula said, noting that people do not talk about uncomfortable things. "We have moved to tell the story about AIDS and that it is OK to talk about it," he said.

The conference promotes abstinence through the schools, and it is caring for 190 orphans at a school supported by the North Georgia Annual Conference and Crossroads United Methodist Church in Virginia, he said.

The Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, introduced a new devotional guide for people dealing with HIV/AIDS. The devotional will be available at the end of the year and is designed to be "helpful to families, friends and people living with AIDS," she said.

Preventive vaccine

Rukudzo Murapa, vice chancellor at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, provided the committee with an update on a continuing relationship with St. Jude's Children Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., to develop a preventive vaccine for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

He told the committee that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved phase one of the project for testing in Memphis, and phase two of the program is to be carried out at Africa University. The project, he said, received endorsement from the Zimbabwean government in July to proceed with the testing of the proposed vaccine with volunteers.

"About a year from now, the testing of the vaccine will be in Zimbabwe," he said. "It is the only one of its kind focusing on prevention, not cure."

Bishop Felton May, the committee chairperson, said, "This is good news. ... (It) is a story that should be told after all the protocols have been cleared by the FDA because we do not want another Tuskegee Institute debacle in their testing processes that were inhumane. ... We are doing the right thing at the right time and in the right way." The Tuskegee Institute conducted a controversial 40-year syphilis study on African-American men, ending in 1972.

Contributions to the Global HIV/AIDS Program may be sent through a local United Methodist church, annual conference or by mailing a check to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Checks should be made to "Advance GCFA" and designated in the memo for Global HIV/AIDS Program, Advance #982345. Call (888) 252-6174 to give by credit card. More details are available at the Advance Web site.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.