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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December 2004, 11:27 GMT
Aids: A South African success story
By Martin Plaut
BBC, Freedom Park

A year ago, when I visited a squatter camp called Freedom Park, north-west of Johannesburg, I met a young orphan called Bongani.

Bongani and his grandmother
A year ago Bongani was off school and sick
It's a rough, tough area, that is home to 20,000 people - and Aids has decimated this community.

Half the women who come for antenatal tests are HIV positive.

Bongani lived in a small yellow painted hut, with his grandmother.

He had lost his mother, his father and his aunt in the past year.

He was very sick with diarrhoea and had not been to school in two weeks.

He was very small for his age but somehow they were struggling through.

The plight of Bongani was not unusual - indeed I was told that he was lucky because he had a grandmother.

Many children who lose their parents to HIV and Aids have no-one.


Now on my return to Freedom Park, the transformation is remarkable. He looks and feels well and has grown a lot in the past year.

Bongani and his grandmother
Now Bongani wants to be a teacher when he grows up
He goes to school and is learning his alphabet and can read. He says he would like to be a teacher when he grows up.

"I am now the one looking after my grandmother," he tells me to laughter.

The reason for the transformation is that he is now on anti-Aids drugs - known as anti-retrovirals (ARVs) - costing 20 rand ($3) a day.

He should remain alive and well for many years to come.

Over five million South Africans are HIV positive, but just 15,000 are now getting the drugs on government schemes.

More are being helped via NGOs, but hundreds of thousands of Aids orphans still have no-one to look after them at all.

It's hard to say Bongani is lucky, but perhaps one could say that he is one of a fortunate handful of children who are HIV positive, who might just survive this terrible epidemic.

This is not because he is one of those being helped by the government directly, but because of an innovative clinic being run here by the Catholic Church out of old shipping containers.

They have 16 health care workers and go out into the community and have been doing so for many years.

In the past few months they have received ARVs paid for by President George Bush's Emergency Plan for Aids relief.

In the past they were only able to give palliative care but they are now able to provide patients like Bongani with the ARVs they need.

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