Rt. Rev. Bishop Dennis H. de Jong (1931-2003)

Rt. Rev. Bishop Dennis H. de Jong

2001 Africa Prize Laureate

Integrated AIDS Programme, Ndola Diocese, Zambia

Under the bold leadership of Bishop Dennis de Jong, the Catholic Diocese created the Integrated AIDS Programme in 1993 to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and provide care to those already infected or orphaned from AIDS. The Integrated AIDS Programme is designed to expand the capacity for home-based care and link communities to external support providing funding and technical expertise. A highly respected and charismatic leader, Bishop de Jong has brought integrity and forthrightness to the programs, allowing participants to explore issues of sexual behavior and personal responsibility rather than only promoting abstinence as the way to prevent HIV/AIDS.

Ordained as a priest in 1958 and as bishop in 1975, Bishop de Jong is described as "a widely respected and charismatic religious leader". Bishop de Jong presided over the Zambia Episcopal Conference from 1978 to 1984, and then served as president of the Association Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa, a regional conference of bishops, from 1987 to 1990.

Bishop de Jong’s program, the Integrated AIDS Programme, is designed to support and coordinate existing community initiatives in an area which includes 26 shanty compounds in five towns in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia. The program has more than 7,000 registered clients and a cadre of 750 volunteers. Three of the many programs coordinated by the Catholic Diocese of Ndola include:

  • Drama groups made up of secondary students and their teachers, presenting information on HIV/AIDS prevention to over 50,000 people in schools and public places.
  • Five workplace programs focused on AIDS prevention and care, involving industrial and mining companies and two military barracks. In each of the five programs, 30 employees are trained as a "core team" to reach out to other employees and their families, which totals 12,000 people.
  • Training workshops for five HIV-positive people in each of the 26 shanty compounds to become motivators of other HIV-positive people to go public and therefore assist in the destigmatization of HIV/AIDS.

The approach of the prevention programs is one of respect for the beneficiaries, using a participatory approach so that existing attitudes, practices and beliefs about HIV/AIDS are known and clarification and input can be appropriately provided. By using this approach, the beneficiaries identify the appropriate steps to take in their own lives to make informed decisions about their sexual behavior.

Bishop de Jong died peacefully in his sleep in September 2003. Zambian newspapers wrote, "At this moment of parting, each one of us... will be within our right to claim him as our bishop, brother and friend for he was all of these things to all of us." 

To his family and friends, Joan Holmes wrote, "He embodied so many of the qualities that make for a great leader – a passionate conviction, a great heart, profound compassion, the courage to confront a challenge that others shied away from, and the creativity to generate program after program to meet that challenge."