AIDS Rights Congo: Stories of Stigma and Hope

The AZUR Development organization is well aware of the discrimination and stigma people with HIV and AIDS in Congo face, thanks to the HIV/AIDS-related work they've been doing since 2006. But now people infected and affected by the disease are sharing their own firsthand experiences on the organization's project blog AIDS Rights Congo.

AZUR Development trained communication officers and leaders of local HIV and AIDS organizations at its head office in Brazzaville, Congo, this past summer on advanced Internet usage and how to create digital stories. Specifically, the participants were taught the basics of blogging and how to use Flickr to publish photos. They also learned how to use Windows Movie Maker. Roméo Mbengou, AZUR Development's Information Coordinator, elaborates on this training session.

To enable these organizations to document their activities, digital cameras were awarded to the participants. They did not hide their satisfaction. According to Jean Pierre Mahoungou of the association Bomoyi, ‘This training allows us to better document our experiences in the fight against AIDS now that we now have cameras to take pictures.’

This training will lead to the production of articles, reports or stories by digital communication officers.

Internet training session

The trained communication officers and members of AZUR Development have started posting a wide range of stories on their observations and experiences with HIV/AIDS in Congo. For example, Mbengou interviews Parfait Bitsindou, a psychologist at the Center for Ambulatory Treatment in Brazzaville, about issues related to psychological support for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). Another post describes a community dinner organized by a women's organization to help curb malnutrition among those with HIV/AIDS. A nutritionist was on hand to provide advice on how to eat healthy at home. The dinner brought together more than 45 people living with HIV/AIDS.

Cooking at a community dinner for those with HIV/AIDS

Sylvie Niombo, leader of this Rising Voices project, posts a story about discriminatory remarks made by the morgue director and town councillor in Pointe-Noire, Congo. She says:

On 3 September the morgue director and town councillor publicly insulted people living with HIV/AIDS who were going to Adolphe Cissé hospital to support friends who were in a more critical state of illness as well as PLWHA had come for the food distribution programme. It would seem that the reason behind this is that a taxi had parked badly and held up traffic for a few minutes and thus prevented him from passing. The despicable abuse is said to have been hurled towards those living with HIV, even going so far as calling them the living dead who would become ice cubes in the morgue in the near future.

In response, people living with the virus and associations fighting against AIDS met with the town’s mayor to criticize this public abuse and request the municipality's support to sensitize authorities and organizations on the rights of those living with HIV.

Davy Herman Malanda posts another account of discrimination, sharing the story of Bernadette (a pseudonym), a young woman who is a second-hand clothing vendor at the Tié-Tié market in Pointe-Noire. She is the breadwinner of the family, but this changes when she discovers she's HIV positive. A friend she confides in divulges Bernadette's HIV status, breaking her trust and changing her life:

Her colleagues and clients from the market are informed that she is HIV-positive. Very few clients come from now on to buy at Bernadette’s table. Her life becomes difficult, and she has difficulty in making ends meet. At the market, her neighbors immediately desert their tables; which even attract the attention of those responsible for managing the market, who, conscious of the fact that having a table at the market is a difficult thing, are surprised to find empty tables around her. The situation has put everyone on alert, and those passing from far away can hear the neighbor’s gossip on the fact that she is a woman infected with HIV. However there are no outward signs that Bernadette is sick, one cannot read it on her face. The illness is not at an advanced stage and she is not on ARV [Antiretroviral] treatment. She is simply a normal young woman.

In a setback, traumatized by the situation, she stops her little shop.

In another post Aurelie, who lives in Brazzaville, shares her story, one that is filled with hope. She talks about how she was diagnosed with HIV, the news hitting her “like a ton of bricks ” and filling her with despair. But Aurelie goes on to describe the support she received from her family and an HIV/AIDS organization.

One day, I went to the hospital to get treatment, and I met a woman from the Positive Women Association of Congo (AFPC). She explained to me what she did and invited me to take part in an open group discussion. At first, I didn’t think it was for me, but the day I went to the discussion, I quickly fit in. I was delighted by the prevailing atmosphere, my morale was reinforced, and no more worries. I had friends, thus a new sun appeared in my life. I was simply myself and not shut in a room to mope…

…The support of my family and the support I found at the AFPC really changed my life. I realize that we’re not alone. I’m a woman, and I lead a normal life like everyone. That’s my story.


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