Zimbabwe Releases Jailed U.S. Church Aid Workers on Bail

Four American health volunteers from a California church were released on bail Monday after being arrested and jailed for treating AIDS patients without proper medical paperwork.

The aid workers paid the $200 bail and were ordered to stay at their Mother of Peace Orphanage in the town of Mutoko, outside the capital Harare, until their next court appearance on Sept. 27.

The four Americans are members of Allen Temple AIDS Ministry in Oakland, Calif., and had treated over 3,000 patients in the past week, reported the group's lawyer, Jonathan Samukange.

 "They were arrested in the scope of their duty," the defense attorney told The Associated Pres. "I am very embarrassed by the actions of our government in arresting people who are doing charity work. They are Christians … not criminals."

In total, six members of the medical team, including doctors from Zimbabwe and New Zealand, were arrested Thursday for operating a clinic and dispensing medicines without proper medical licenses.

If convicted, the four U.S. health workers could be fined and deported.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Zimbabwe has the sixth highest percentage of adults (ages 15 to 49) living with HIV/AIDS – 15.3 percent. In total, there are an estimated 1.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. The HIV crisis has also left some 1.8 million children without one or both their parents.

Besides its high HIV/AIDS rate, Zimbabwe also struggles with food insecurity, political and economic problems. For years the country suffered from excessive hyperinflation and in last 2008 more than 40 percent of the population needed food aid.

The country is, however, showing slight signs of progress under the fragile coalition government between the MDC/Zanu-PF parties.

Its president, Robert Mugabe, has acted as the head of the government since 1980.