DURBAN, South Africa, March 28 /PRNewswire/ --

- After Seven Years of Growth, Ithembalabantu 'People's Hope' AIDS Clinic Moves to New, Larger Freestanding Site at Umlazi's Ithala Centre. Formal Dedication and Ribbon-cutting Ceremony Set for Tuesday, March 31st

- AHF to Provide Free Mass HIV Testing during Daylong Celebration and Launch with Goal of 500 Tests

Following seven years of continuing growth at its first free international AIDS treatment site outside of the United States, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest AIDS group in the US, which currently provides medical care and services to more than 98,000 individuals in 21 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Asia, will launch a new, expanded state-of-the-art clinic location in Umlazi, Durban, South Africa. The clinic, known as 'Ithembalabantu' (Zulu for 'people's hope') was AHF's first in its overseas global network. It had been housed in a bustling storefront location in Ithala Centre, a popular shopping center in Umlazi since it was dedicated in August, 2001 and began treating its first 200 patients starting in February, 2002. Currently over 7,000 adult and pediatric patients receive medical care at Ithembalabantu, many of whom also receive free lifesaving anti-retroviral treatment via the facility.

The launch of the new Ithembalabantu location, now in a larger freestanding building nearby the original storefront clinic, takes place Tuesday March 31st from 11:00am until 3:00pm, and will include a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony as well as remarks from honored guests, including representatives from the local and national health ministries. As part of the launch celebration, AHF will also be coordinating free mass HIV testing at the site throughout the day with a goal of providing 500 free rapid HIV tests.

What: Launch of AHF's New Site for Free AIDS Treatment Clinic (Ribbon-cutting, press conference to follow) When: Tuesday, March 31st 11:00am South Africa Time Who: Jorge Saavedra, MD, Chief of Global Affairs, AIDS Healthcare Foundation Ms. Peggy Nkonyeni, MEC, Keynote Address Dr. Zweli Mkhize, MEC for Finance and Economic Development Njabulo Mabaso, MD, Medical Director, Ithembalabantu Clinic Sheryl Lee Ralph, Actress AIDS activist Diana Hoorzuk, Vice-chair, AHF Board of Directors Zinhle Tabethe, Mistress of Ceremonies and former Ithembalabantu patient Terri Ford, Senior Director of Global Policy, AIDS Healthcare Foundation And other honored guests to be announced Where: Ithembalabantu Clinic-Ithala Centre Ground and 1st Floor, 162 Zwe Madlala Drive W. Section, Umlazi, 4031 SOUTH AFRICA +27-31-906-04-52 Office

It is an honor for me to welcome such esteemed colleagues and partners to join in the ceremonies marking the expansion and launch of Ithembalabantu, AIDS Healthcare Foundation's first free global AIDS treatment facility, Jorge Saavedra, MD, Chief of Global Affairs for AIDS Healthcare Foundation. From 200 patients in its first year to well over 7,000 patients today, we hope this new facility allows us to continue Ithembalabantu's remarkable tradition of service to those living with HIV/AIDS by providing the space and resources needed for us to continue to expand the rolls of those in care and on treatment in South Africa.

With nearly one in five people living with-and dying from-HIV/AIDS in South Africa today, our country remains one of those hardest hit by the global pandemic, Diana Hoorzuk, Vice-chair of the Board of Directors for AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Over the years, Ithembalabantu has met a portion of South Africa's enormous need for care and services through our initial location in Umlazi. I am very pleased that we have outgrown that original space and that we are now celebrating the launch of this new, expanded location for Ithembalabantu-a remarkable facility which will allow us to broaden the reach of our mission to provide free care and lifesaving antiretroviral treatment.

As the Medical Director for Ithembalabantu, I can report firsthand that this new treatment facility will make it much easier for us to treat many more patients in need, Njabulo Mabaso, MD, Medical Director for AHF's Ithembalabantu Clinic. We have done a commendable job over the years at our storefront clinic location, but this new state-of-the-art site provides a potentially far greater opportunity for us to bring many, many more people into the lifeboat of medical care and treatment.

It is both an honor and privilege for me to share in this day as we launch AHF's new Ithembalabantu Clinic. I am particularly pleased to learn that free rapid HIV testing will be available throughout the daylong celebration in Umlazi, and urge all of you who have not tested or may not know your HIV status to get tested today, Sheryl Lee Ralph, actress and AIDS activist. The best way to break the chain of infection-in the US, South Africa or anywhere-is for people to know their HIV status. Testing today is free and easy; and for those individuals who may test positive, people can be easily linked to care and treatment opportunities right here at Ithembalabantu.

History of the AHF's First Global Partnership-South Africa

In July 2000, AHF president Michael Weinstein attended the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, which for a brief window of time focused the world's attention on the devastation of AIDS in Africa. Weinstein, one of the many thousands of AIDS executives, researchers, physicians, scientists and activists who had traveled to the conference, was profoundly moved by what he saw beyond the veneer of the conference halls in South Africa. He met with AIDS activists and representatives of AIDS organizations and toured the townships in KwaZulu-Natal. After seeing the compassion and commitment of those advocates, Weinstein made a vow to develop partnerships and a plan to open a clinic in Durban. The plan also included conducting operational research on the use of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in a resource poor environment. At the time of the initial clinic launch of Ithembalabantu in 2002, AHF President Weinstein remarked, The clinic in Durban is a seed that we hope will grow into a thriving tree. The success of the Ithembalabantu Clinic will show the world that treating HIV can succeed across the globe.

Today, seven years later, I am extremely proud to report that AIDS Healthcare Foundation now provides care and treatment to more than 98,000 people in 21 countries around the globe, Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, in a statement from Los Angeles As we celebrate Ithembalabantu on its move today to its wonderful new space, I am both honored and humbled by the knowledge that the seed we first planted in Umlazi years ago has born fruit, leading the way in our growing network of free AIDS treatment clinics-52 global clinics and counting- through which we provide lifesaving medical care and treatment to those most in need around the world.

SOUTH AFRICA: Terri Ford, Director of Global Policy, AHF, Cell: +1-213-399-1001, or Njabulo Mabaso, MD, Medical Director, Ithembalabantu Clinic, Work: +27-31-906-04-52, Cell: 072-3580369; UNITED STATES: Ged Kenslea, Communications Director, AHF, Work: +1-323-860-5225, Cell: +1-323-791-5526, Lori Yeghiayan, Associate Director of Communications, AHF, Work: +1-323-860-5227, Cell: +1-323-377-4312