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Catholic Sisters, Foreign Volunteers, Combat HIV/AIDS Stigma 

By Peterkins Manyong

Some Catholic sisters in the Northwest Region have joined forces with foreign experts to combat stigmatization of HIV/AIDS patients. The sisters, who launched a programme codenamed Project Hope in 2000, organised a joint seminar to exchange experiences and improve working skills, last weekend at Big Mankon, Bamenda.

Briefing The Post, Sister Xavier Ntenmusi, a Franciscan reverend sister and Matron of Njinikom Hospital, who directs the programme, said she was particularly pleased that Volunteer Services Overseas experts from Yaounde had agreed to work with Project Hope. She said the VSO came in to see which area required most assistance and provide whatever help it is able to. Expressing optimism about the relationship with VSO, she said whenever they accept to work with an organisation; they stay with it for long.

Throwing more light on the work they were doing, she said persons with HIV/AIDS die more because of stigma than because of the disease. Project Hope was, therefore, initiated to make infected persons know that they could still live normal lives after becoming HIV positive.

"We have made them understand that HIV/AIDS is just like malaria, diabetes and hypertension," Sister Ntenmusi said adding that the first thing to begin with is prevention before proceeding to treatment. She said she was pleased that sero-positive persons can now come into the open and not only testify, but also educate others. She maintained that the majority of those dying as a result of HIV infection come mainly from faraway places.

Sister Chiara Yongye, also a Franciscan sister and a regional medical counsellor, said she became part of the programme in 2007 it involved the co-congregation and it is her calling to take care of the sick. She said she was also interested because it involves HIV and the youth.
Yongye said her preoccupation was to go to the field; to villages and schools and also to organise seminars. She was pleased that infected persons who had been participating in the seminars now have a positive view of life.

She advised all those who had not yet been infected to avoid doing so and those who are not yet married and intend to do so should do their HIV test before marrying. She also advised those who are married to remain faithful to their spouses. As for the infected, she said they should strive to live on good nutrition, take their drugs regularly and live spiritually upright lives.
Augustine Bangsi, coordinator of the workshop, said it was titled "Need assessment Workshop." The Post also gathered that it was intended to strengthen Project Hope at the level of orphans and vulnerable children and give them care and support

The occasion brought together reverend sisters and staff from on the various project sites: Tatum, Shisong, Wum, Bafut, Bali, Tahsen and Njinikom. The project was founded by the Tertiary Sister of Saint Francis Catholic Church in Cameroon, hence the name project Hope TSSF. It was initiated in response to the increasing and devastating effects of HIV.

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