U.S. Axes AIDS Relief Funding to Church in South Africa

American funds will soon be channeled to the country’s government, forcing Church agencies to seek new sources of money.

ROME — The United States has stopped funding AIDS-relief programs in South Africa organized by the Catholic Church, handing the money instead over to the country’s government.

“We have a problem because the American funding, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, is coming to an end,” Benedictine monk Father Gerhard Lagleder told Vatican Radio.

“I am in Europe today to beg,” added the monk, who has been a missionary in South Africa for 26 years.

“I always say jokingly that the Benedictines are not a mendicant order [relying on donations], but I have become a beggar because it is about saving lives,” he said during the July 16 interview.

President George W. Bush launched PEPFAR in 2003, which enabled money to go directly to the hands of field operators — many of whom belonged to the Catholic Church.

The program, which has been supporting AIDS relief by the South African Bishops’ Conference for 10 years, will end in June 2014, and money will be given instead to the country’s National Health Care System.

President Barack Obama traveled to South Africa on June 29 for the first time since his election, during a week’s visit to Africa in which he also visited Senegal and Tanzania.

At the Desmond Tutu Peace Center on June 30, he said that the goal of U.S. policy is to increase South Africa and other nations’ capacity to manage their own programs to fight HIV/AIDS rather than to rely largely on U.S. funding.

“Thank God the bishops’ conference spoke to the South African government, that in turn spoke to the National Department of Health and to the Kwa Zulu Department of Health,” Father Gerhard noted.

This resulted in the government AIDS-treatment programs taking over the patients of Catholic institutions in many parts of the country.

Around 40,000 people had started anti-retroviral treatment by November 2012 through the AIDS treatment program of the Catholic bishops’ conference.

“Most of them have been transferred to the government’s program, but in our area, the government clinic is so overswamped with patients, they could not take over our patients; so we have no choice but to carry on,” Father Gerhard said.

The priest, of German origin, established the Brotherhood of Blessed Gerhard, which runs a large treatment program as well as a clinic, an AIDS education service, a hospice, a nursery and an ambulance, and it provides funds for helping young people to study, among other things.

“The bishops' conference covers 24% of our costs, but as from next year, we will have to pay for about 50% of our costs ourselves,” he said.

The Benedictine priest said he had traveled to Europe to find new ways of financial support for the treatment program, which is the Brotherhood’s main activity.

“To say it in plain English, we will have to finance about 150,000 euros per year until June 2014, and from then, it will be about 300,000 euros, which we will have to finance from our side to supplement what is necessary to run the program.”