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Global Campaign to Improve Hospice Care in Africa to Launch in Balboa Park

This week, all eyes will turn to San Diego for the launch of a celebrity-infused effort to improve hospice and palliative care in Sub-Saharan Africa by way of corporate philanthropy.

Under development for the past two years thanks to $1 million in seed money from the Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, the Diana Legacy Fund will make its worldwide debut May 15 in Balboa Park. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former President Bill Clinton and singer Elton John are among the expected guests, who will encourage U.S. companies to open their wallets.

Long before her death, Princess Diana was seen embracing an AIDS patient in a photograph broadcasted worldwide in 1987 when many people feared contracting the disease simply by touching someone infected with it, and no one wanted to be associated with the acronyms HIV/AIDS.

Among the dozen who have already donated up to $50,000 is Carlsbad’s Orchestra Therapeutics Inc., formerly known as the Immune Response Corp.

Orchestra Therapeutics specializes in the development of pharmaceuticals for autoimmune diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, which is the reason more hospice and palliative care is needed in Sub-Saharan Africa where 2 million people die each year from the incurable disease.

A $5 million federal grant has also been collected thus far.

Greg Grabowski, vice president of development for the Virginia-based National Hospice Foundation, which is one of two nonprofits that will administer the Diana Legacy Fund, said San Diego was chosen as the launching pad because of the size of the biotech industry here and because the nation’s largest for-profit hospice company, Vitas Innovative Hospice Care, runs a San Diego operation that has helped provide hospice and palliative care in Africa for the past five years.

Vitas, which is based in Miami and reports $699 million in revenues last year, will be among the groups that fund administrators will partner with to improve care in Africa. Vitas is a subsidiary of Cincinnati-based Chemed Corp., a $1 billion publicly traded company that also owns plumbing company Roto-Rooter.

Philip Di Sorbo is executive director for the Virginia-based Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is helping Grabowski’s group administer the Diana Legacy Fund. He said rather than use the fund to build brand new facilities or programs, a decision has been made to stretch resources by partnering with existing hospice and palliative care providers, such as Vitas.

“I think from a business perspective, what Phil’s done about this is very smart,” Grabowski said, noting that it is also smart business for health care-related companies to donate to the fund because it can help their own businesses grow.

Grabowski said hospice providers, who are heavily dependent on an ever-shrinking nursing pool, can boost morale and receive positive public relations backing such a high-profile fund.

San Diego County is home to at least 14 hospice providers, with seven operating for-profit and the other seven being nonprofits.

According to Grabowski, billions have been spent on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in Africa, leaving little left over to make terminal patients comfortable in their final days of life.

“Our basic job is to bring some awareness and some funding to an area we feel has been lost in the shuffle,” Grabowski said.

Di Sorbo said that by the end of this year, the goal is to raise $1 million for the Diana Legacy Fund. Within six years, a goal of $10 million has been set.

This week’s launch event in Balboa Park is scheduled for 11 a.m., May 15.

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