|© UNICEF CAR/2009/Hommel|
|A sign carries an HIV/AIDS prevention message in the Central African Rebublic, which has a persistently high HIV prevalence rate.|
By Jacqueline Chu-Montell
BANGUI, Central African Republic, 15 March 2012 – It has been about 10 years since Giselle,* feeling unwell, went to the Bangui Community Hospital and learned that she was HIV positive.
After her diagnosis, she fell into a deep depression.
“It wasn’t easy,” she said, “because people with HIV are stigmatized and treated badly by their families and communities. People would tell me not to drink from their water bottles because they thought they could become infected this way.”
Finding support among peers
Because Giselle was pregnant at the time, a hospital doctor advised her to join a local support group that offered pregnant women assistance preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of the disease. The group meets weekly to discuss members’ challenges and fears, as well as their progress and achievements.
One day in December, 14 women and three of their male partners attended a support group session. The women’s bond was immediately apparent, with women placing their arms around each other’s shoulders and holding each other’s babies in their laps.
“Now, I’m happy,” Giselle said. ”I know how to protect myself and my family.”
Her husband is HIV-negative, as are the three children they have had since she joined the support group.
“Look at us,” she continued. ”Can you tell we’re infected? The programme has helped us build morale and taught us how to bring up healthy children.”
Giselle has also been fortunate; her extended family also offers her and her husband moral support. But financial support for her family of seven has been more difficult to come by.
UNICEF provides technical and financial support for programmes providing care and PMTCT services to HIV-affected pregnant women in the Central African Republic, where the mother-to-child transmission rate is among the highest in the world.
While antiretroviral (ARV) medications, which help prevent transmission of the disease from pregnant women to their foetuses, are provided free of charge, the funding for this programme is limited.
“Funding for ARV and other related services is seriously threatened,” said Cecile Ndoli, a UNICEF HIV/AIDS Specialist. “Already, some health districts have had interruptions of stock, which can lead to drug resistance in people who take antiretroviral medications.”
And too few women are being tested for the disease, an essential step in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The government and health organizations have renewed their commitment to assist HIV- and AIDS-affected populations in the Central African Republic, but significant financial and technical support are required to meet the population’s considerable needs. Long-term support, in the form of HIV tests, ARVs, other PMTCT medications, health counselling and other assistance are necessary to both care for HIV-affected families and to empower them the care for themselves.
*Name changed to protect identity