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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | Southern Africa | SOUTH AFRICA: New effort to ease community's HIV/AIDS woes | Care Treatment, Children, Prevention Research, Stigma Human rights, Other | News Items
Tuesday 21 February 2006
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SOUTH AFRICA: New effort to ease community's HIV/AIDS woes

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Some of the healthcare staff who will be running the centre

JOHANNESBURG, 16 September (PLUSNEWS) - A community grappling with HIV/AIDS on the outskirts of South Africa's east-coast city of Durban might soon find relief in an unlikely place.

Religious and community leaders are converting 'The Blue Roofs', previously a nightclub, into an HIV voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) centre for residents in the predominantly mixed-race township of Wentworth.

Father Cierigh Samaai of Saint Gabriel's, a local Anglican Church, said funding from the international NGO, Keep A Child Alive, would enable the new centre to conduct testing and refer HIV-positive people to various government anti-AIDS drug rollout sites.

"Presently it is just an open space, as we are in still the final phase of acquiring property rights from the previous owner but, once renovated, the facility will be equipped with trained healthcare workers and at least seven medical wards catering to the needs of men, women and children," Samaai told PlusNews.

More than US $440,000 has been pledged by Keep A Child Alive for the deeds to the property, and blueprints for the renovations have already been drawn.

"We hope to eventually ... [act] as one of the government's antiretroviral rollout sites, and help take some of the pressure off Wentworth Hospital, which ... is very busy with people seeking treatment on a daily basis," he commented.

Wentworth Hospital, about two km from the new site, is the first choice of many unemployed HIV-positive residents unable to afford the cost of travel to a treatment centre outside the community, but not everyone is comfortable with having VCT done at a site where the chances of bumping into a familiar face are quite high.

Laura Smith, 36, and HIV-positive, knows only too well the problems experienced by someone seeking treatment but too afraid of being "outed".

"AIDS is rife in Wentworth but people would rather die than make use of the available local service for fear of bumping into a neighbour. There are at least three or four funerals each week at various local churches, and even Dudley Street cemetery [for Wentworth residents] is running out of burial space as a result of the disease," she told PlusNews.

Smith hopes that the new initiative will not only prove valuable to HIV-positive people struggling to meet travel costs for medical check-ups outside of the community, but also as a means of encouraging more people to know their HIV status and speak out against stigma and discrimination.

"I have a good feeling about what they are doing with 'The Blue Roofs' - who would have thought that something so positive could come out of something so negative?" she remarked.

Recounting how the HI virus was brought home by an unfaithful husband, Smith said there was no place for nightclubs in a township with strong religious affiliations, family values and a large population of young people.

Smith's sentiments are not unique; they are also shared by Dale Ackerman, who was once an avid patron of The Blue Roofs nightclub.

Ackerman told PlusNews that what initially started out as a family place, offering a variety of indoor sporting activities, soon became a hot-bed of often under-aged alcohol and drug abuse, which usually led to risky sexual behaviour.

"Greed forced the owners to convert the venue into a nightclub and tavern, which attracted an unsavoury crowd of people. And while the wives chose to stay at home with the kids, some married men still frequented the club to pick up single girls and boys in exchange for the cover charge or a round of drinks," he confided.

According to Ackerman, desperation arising from poverty made it especially easy for most patrons to exchange sexual favours for alcohol, drugs and money.

"In retrospect, while it was convenient for those of us seeking a local party venue without having to worry about drinking and driving afterwards, The Blue Roofs possibly brought more misery than joy to most. The disco and pub may have been shut down, but the consequences are still being felt," he said.

Ackerman suggested that the new owners name the VCT centre 'The Red Roof', because the colour was synonymous with HIV/AIDS, and people would know where to go for help.

The official launch of the new centre is expected to take place at the end of December.


Recent SOUTH AFRICA Reports
Govt adopts more focused approach to help orphans,  21/Feb/06
Concern as MSF starts handover of HIV/AIDS treatment,  24/Jan/06
Gays and SANBS kiss and make up,  20/Jan/06
Khomanani adds a new twist to love on Valentine's,  13/Jan/06
Global Fund withdraws support for loveLife ,  19/Dec/05
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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