With most of the deaths from HIV/AIDS occurring in Africa, a new initiative has been launched from Britain to care for the terminally ill. The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund has announced a $7 million program to ease the suffering of Africans in the final stages of HIV/AIDS and cancer.

The British based Fund says that for millions of Africans, the approach of death is marked by pain, deprivation and neglect. The extended family which has traditionally cared for the sick and dying has been devastated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The remaining caregivers are hard pressed to provide comfort, let alone painkillers.

Dr. Andrew Purkis, chief executive of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, says that's why the Palliative Care Initiative was launched. "The focus of this new program is to try to transform life for many millions of people who, at the moment, are suffering from incurable diseases and are dying in a state of neglect and appalling pain, which is not necessary," said Dr. Purkis.

The $7 million project will focus its initial efforts in east and southern Africa by setting up community-based Hospice programs. Hospice organizations provide terminally ill patients with comfort, dignity and support, including pain management.

The Fund says that in developing countries, many hospitals often discharge chronically or terminally ill patients with no follow-up support. Dr. Purkis says the Palliative Care Initiative aims to change that. "We will also be helping to train more doctors and particularly nurses and health workers in the basic techniques of palliative care appropriate to the African context," he say. "We're not talking here expensive brick and mortar hospices in that sense. We're talking mainly about community-based care, which can be administered very effectively and quite cheaply and with a lot of support for families who are involved in the caring."

Dr. Purkis says the administering of morphine and other painkilling drugs will make a tremendous difference to those who are terminally ill - and to their families as well.

Dr. Ekie Kikule cares for HIV/AIDS patients in Uganda and is Deputy Director of Hospice Uganda. "We do care for patients in their own homes. And such care is important because most of our patients that have cancer or HIV can't afford the treatments or technologies available for these diseases," said Dr. Ekie Kikule, Deputy Director of Hospice Uganda. "So we do help them in their own homes, control their pain, control other symptoms that are distressing. And we also support their family as they look after their loved ones."

Of the more than 20 million people estimated to have died from HIV/AIDS over the past 20 years, most were Africans. Dr. Kikule says Hospice Uganda is able to help only a small number of those expected to join the ranks of the pandemic's victims. "We are still very small. At the moment, we have about 200 patients in our program," she says. "But since we started in 1993, we've cared for about three thousand patients. But you realize that this is a drop in the ocean."

The Ugandan physician says AIDS patients in the last stages of life must be treated with dignity. "Just because somebody is dying of an incurable disease doesn't mean that that person has ceased living," says Dr. Kikule. "And for me, I feel it's been a real lesson, seeing this person still having hopes and wanting to plan for their family and talking and having fears they are very much alive and they need our support. For me that has been a real lesson."

The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund was established just days after the princess's death four years ago. Officials say by the end of this year, it will have pledged over $65 million to charities around the world.