Hospice hoping to learn from African counterpart

South African facility treats many AIDS patients without a lot of resources

December 26, 2003|By Stephanie Tracy | Stephanie Tracy,SUN STAFF

Brits Hospice, a 3-year-old organization treating the terminally ill in the northeastern corner of South Africa, is on the front lines of that continent's AIDS epidemic.

Halfway around the world, the 25-year-old Hospice of the Chesapeake has served thousands of terminally ill patients with a variety of conditions and built a strong relationship of support and respect in the surrounding community.

Now, through a New York-based foundation dedicated to forging links between such groups, Hospice of the Chesapeake has become the first Mid-Atlantic region hospice to become a partner of an African hospice organization.

Hospice of the Chesapeake will share technical, administrative and development expertise with its South African counterpart. In exchange, the Anne Arundel-based group will get a glimpse into how hospice care is provided in regions where funding and other resources are scarce.

"Any time you see someone else who does the same type of work you do, there's an opportunity to learn from them," said Jan Wood, a spokeswoman for the Maryland organization.

Hospice of the Chesapeake, which has operated a residential hospice facility in Anne Arundel County for 25 years, expanded into Prince George's County in 2001. Last year, Hospice of the Chesapeake provided 1,232 patients with residential and in-home care.

The six-bed Chesapeake Hospice House is on about an acre north of Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Linthicum.

Foundation of Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa connected the Hospice of the Chesapeake and Brits Hospice. The foundation, established in 1999, pairs hospice organizations based on complementary skills, resources and goals.

The partners get firsthand educational opportunities, financial support and a greater understanding of hospice care in each country. Partnerships have been formed between hospices in Africa and organizations in California, New York and Colorado, among other states.

The reach of the AIDS epidemic is evident in the demographic statistics for both hospice organizations.

As of this month, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS estimated that 40 million people are living with AIDS worldwide, and an estimated 5 million people were infected by HIV this year.

About 45 miles northeast of Johannesburg, Brits Hospice operates in an area where more than 25 percent of the 250,000 residents are HIV-positive. Last year, Brits Hospice served 102 patients, 62 of whom were HIV or AIDS patients.

In contrast, 17 of the 2,451 patients served by Hospice of the Chesapeake in the past two years were HIV-positive, which represents less than 1 percent of Hospice of the Chesapeake's patient load for that period.

Wood said the local organization got involved in the international partnership because Hospice of the Chesapeake's president, Erwin E. Abrams, felt that the Anne Arundel group had something to offer the smaller South African hospice.

"We got involved in this program because we believe in it," Wood said. "We can learn a lot from our partners, especially about AIDS. We just thought it was the right thing to do."

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