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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

UNICEF-supported community health centres battle HIV and AIDS in DR Congo

© UNICEF DR Congo/2010/Walther
A woman with her young grandson at the paediatric HIV centre in Lubumbashi, southern DR Congo, where a routine blood test has revealed that he is living with the virus.

LUBUMBASHI, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 29 December 2010 – Here in DR Congo, where most children and adolescents lack access to education, there is little awareness about prevention of HIV and AIDS. In general, people go to the hospital only if they feel sick, and so HIV infection may go undetected until it has reached an advanced stage requiring intensive care.

To prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the World Health Organization recommends anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment from the third trimester before birth. Yet countless Congolese women give birth every day without ever undergoing an antenatal consultation or discovering their HIV status.

“Not many women go to a hospital for antenatal care or delivery,” explains Dr. Joe Kabongo, deputy coordinator of a UNICEF-supported paediatric HIV centre in Lubumbashi, southern DR Congo. He adds that long distances and related transport costs for rural women are one part of the problem, and cultural beliefs are another.

To tackle HIV, “prevention mechanisms must be set-up in all health centres and, most importantly, at the community level,” says Dr. Kabongo. “In most Congolese families, men remain the key decision-makers. To convince them of the importance of obstetric care and HIV testing, widespread community support is required.”

‘Moving in the right direction’

Lubumbashi’s paediatric HIV centre provides psycho-social support for parents and their children living with HIV. Its aim is to inform, reassure and encourage families, opening a door to transparency and acceptance in local communities. The facility is one of only three centres in the country specializing in the treatment of children affected by HIV and AIDS; the other two are in Goma and the capital, Kinshasa.

© UNICEF DR Congo/2010/Walther
Dr. Joe Kabongo, deputy coordinator of a UNICEF-supported paediatric HIV centre in Lubumbashi, southern DR Congo, points to a variety of medications required to fight of opportunistic diseases.

UNICEF provides medication against opportunistic diseases, hospital equipment and technical support at the Lubumbashi centre, while the Clinton Foundation and the US Centers for Disease Control contribute paediatric ARV medication and epidemiological assistance, respectively.

At the same time, UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health in advocating for funding from multilateral donors for the fight against AIDS.

The latest national study in DR Congo, done in 2009, shows a small decrease in HIV prevalence among pregnant women. “Even though we cannot be sure that these figures are indeed proof of progress or due to statistical irregularities,” says Dr. Kabongo, “they seem to indicate that we are moving in the right direction.”



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