Operators of a Hollywood-based network of AIDS treatment centers said Thursday they plan to branch out to Africa, opening the first internationally sponsored clinic for patients in hard-hit South Africa.
Administrators of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation said they will spend $200,000 a year to operate the clinic in Durban, where officials have estimated that 10% of the population is infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes the disease.
The nonprofit foundation operates nine clinics in the Los Angeles area, as well as a year-old center in Oakland and two treatment sites that opened last month in New York and Jacksonville, Fla.
The South African clinic, to be called Ithembalabantu, which means "people's hope" in Zulu, will open Aug. 30 in Durban's Umlazi township. It will begin treating patients in mid-September, said Ged Kenslea, a spokesman for the foundation.
Although Los Angeles-based medical experts and clinic administrators are setting up the treatment center, South Africans have been hired to run it, Kenslea said. It will be operated in partnership with a local independent group, Network of AIDS Communities in South Africa, he said. The long-range plan calls for the clinic to be self-sustaining.
Foundation leaders said the idea for the clinic came out of an international AIDS conference in Durban 13 months ago. During breaks in the session, AIDS Healthcare President Michael Weinstein ventured into the community to check on services for HIV patients.
A manager of Network of AIDS Communities heard of Weinstein's inquiries. She cajoled a friend who works in the conference hotel into slipping a note to Weinstein under the door of his room.
Weinstein met with Network head Nomaswazi Mlaba and ended up inviting her and several other South African AIDS activists to the United States in December. Their tales of the South African AIDS crisis prompted foundation officials to launch the clinic.
Foundation officials have invited three members of California's black congressional delegation--Democratic Reps. Diane Watson of Los Angeles, Juanita Millender-McDonald of Carson and Barbara Lee of Oakland--to attend the Aug. 30 opening ceremony. The group will partially pay for the lawmakers' trip, Kenslea said.
One person not invited is South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki. He has caused an international uproar by questioning whether HIV causes AIDS and by rejecting appeals to declare his country's AIDS epidemic a national emergency, which could open the door to the use of low-cost generic anti-AIDs drugs there.
South Africa, Weinstein said, is being led by someone "whose government doesn't want to be helped" in the fight against AIDS.