When Sister Raphaela Händler arrived in Namibia in 1996 to coordinate the country’s Roman Catholic hospitals and health-care clinics, she realized that AIDS was a “time bomb” about to burst. She had worked previously in Tanzania, and had seen the AIDS pandemic spread there. Although Namibia was years behind Tanzania in the spread of this disease, the pattern was similar. Namibia was heading for disaster.
By late 1998, Namibia was the third most HIV-infected country in the world, with more than one in five adults estimated to be HIV-positive. Even more disturbing, according to Sister Raphaela, was that the churches were “conspirators in the silence,” doing nothing to address the crisis. She initiated a mass advocacy effort that resulted in Catholic AIDS Action, a program approved in 1998 by the Namibian Catholic Bishops Conference. It was the first national church-based program of HIV/AIDS prevention and care in Namibia.