AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) celebrated 15 years of saving lives at its flagship clinic in Durban, South Africa on April 16.
With the hindsight of a decade and a half, it’s clear there could have been no better name than “Ithembalabantu,” which means “People’s Hope” in Zulu, for the clinic that started AHF’s global program.
In 2001, AHF converted a cramped, abandoned office into a clinic for 100 patients living with HIV and hired 3 people to run it. At the time, accesses to lifesaving antiretroviral therapy in South Africa was virtually non-existent and thousands of people were dying of AIDS each day. Since then, Ithembalabantu has grown into a proud institution, recognized far beyond the township of Umlazi where it is located. Today it serves 15,000 patients in a dedicated, state-of-the-art building.
AHF South Africa celebrated this momentous milestone by hosting a special screening of “The People’s Hope,” a documentary film recounting how AHF created Ithembalabantu and gave hope to thousands when there was no hope and no treatment available.
“It meant so much to be there to celebrate the 15th anniversary of AHF in South Africa with so many dedicated people,” said Terri Ford, AHF Chief of Global Policy and Advocacy. “It was an incredible night of pride, celebration and community. South Africa was the start of our global programs and the root of our global advocacy.”
Nearly 300 of AHF’s staff members, clients, members of community service organizations and government representatives attended the screening. Among them were some of the original 100 patients, including a long-time survivor and activist Jenny Boyce, and Sister Cynthia Luthuli, Ithembalabantu’s longest-serving nurse.
Vice Chair of AHF’s Global Board, Diana Hoorzuk highlighted the significance of Ithembalabantu’s accomplishments in her speech before the screening. “History has shown in the past 15 years that people living in poor resource settings can adhere to medication and they have the will to live, ” she remarked.
Dr. Sibongiseni Maxwell Dhlomo, a Member of the Executive Council for Health for the Province of KwaZulu-Natal also attended the screening and delivered remarks on the government’s commitment to ending HIV/AIDS among young people through targeted prevention activities. Dr. Dhlomo acknowledged the dedication and commitment of AHF staff members like Sister Luthuli, as part of the contribution to the progress that has been made against AIDS in South Africa. He commended the partnership between AHF and the government, and the benefits it has brought for the people.
Hope is the central theme of the documentary. It compelled AHF to open the clinic and show a better model for delivering treatment, while thousands of people were dying of AIDS every day. Hope drove the original handful of patients to come to Ithembalantu in the face of pervasive HIV stigma. In the early days of the clinic, success was as uncertain as the likelihood of surviving HIV for millions of South Africans, but today there’s no better testament to the prescience of the clinic’s name—People’s Hope—than the thousands of its patients who are alive and well today.