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The Southern Africa AIDS Foundation (SAAF) was formed as a community association in March 2002. SAAF was formed in response to stigmatisation associated with HIV/AIDS within the African community living in the United Kingdom (UK), and the seemingly hopeless plight of orphans, known locally as “street children”, in Southern Africa.
At the turn of the millennium, a group of health professionals became increasingly concerned about the apparent lack of knowledge on HIV/AIDS within the African community living in London and the South East of England. From discussions at various meetings and events, it became increasingly clear that a number of health professionals were individually trying to educate the community on the HIV virus, and many were aware of or supporting HIV/AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia, all countries within the Southern African region.
The year 2000 and 2001 witnessed an increase in the immigrant population from Southern Africa to the UK due to the adverse political and economic situation within Zimbabwe. During that time there was a significant number of sudden illnesses, and in a few cases, death from HIV infection and AIDS related illness within the community. Cultural practices within the African community often necessitated the repatriation of the deceased to Africa following death in the UK. In most cases the newly arrived immigrants would not have had adequate insurance, if any. Often, death of a fellow African meant the community struggled to raise enough funds to cover the necessary expenses.
In Southern Africa, children who had lost one or both parents to HIV infection were more often than not, destitute. Social service provision from the state, where available, was often very limited and inadequate. Cultural practices provided for orphans to be looked after by other members of the extended family who were in employment or had adequate resources. The collapse of the economy in Zimbabwe, with the unprecedented high levels of hyperinflation and unemployment, made it more difficult for families to look after orphans, and added to the orphan’s plight. Such orphans often found themselves homeless and begging on the streets for survival, hence the local name “street children”.
The group concluded that the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS within the community in general, was the result of a lack of up to date information on HIV transmission, testing and treatment. As a group, they would be in a better position to support orphans in Southern Africa and to disseminate information in the UK to the African community in a culturally appropriate way. Consequently this would increase the level of HIV testing and treatment, and reduce the number of deaths due to HIV infection. For those infected, Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) and the Highly Active Anti Retroviral Therapy (HAART) treatment would improve their quality of life. Such treatment enables people infected by the virus to live a longer, normal life.
At the inaugural open meeting of the association in March 2002 held in Lewisham, London, an executive committee of seven, and a general committee of sixteen individuals, were nominated to run the affairs of the association. The executive committee included the elected honorary officers: chairperson, general secretary, and treasurer. The executive was made up of health professionals, a community development worker, a university research fellow, and others.
In May 2005, SAAF was registered as an international charity with the Charities Commission for England and Wales , and on 8 July 2005, SAAF was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee with Companies House, England and Wales.