Living with HIV in Goma

May 16, 2023
Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Mother in Children’s AIDS Program
    Interviewee
  • Joshua Bress
    Author

For 12 years, Global Strategies has worked alongside our partner HEAL Africa to provide life-saving care to families through the Children’s AIDS Program. Trying to envision what it is like to live with HIV, and to care for one’s own children living with HIV, in a place beset by war and natural disaster is beyond what most of us can imagine. We wish we could take every one of our friends and supporters to visit the clinic and meet the amazing Congolese medical team. We are grateful to a mother in the Children’s AIDS Program who volunteered to share her story:

Patient XX with Dr Denise, CAP Program Counselor (Photo: Miruho Nkombera Yusufa Blaise)

Name: XX

Age: 45 years old

In 2004, I fell ill and was treated at the GOMA General Hospital. During my hospitalization I had been consulted and tested for HIV. The result indicated that I was a carrier of the AIDS virus. It hurt my heart too much because I knew that I was faithful to my husband. The doctor also invited my husband for the HIV test which was also positive. My husband apologized to me and we went on with an ordinary life. In any case, I had no other choice to make. At that time, antiretroviral treatment was not yet available and doctors were content to give us advice on food, telling us to eat fruit and vegetables every day.  

The doctors also advised us not to give birth to any more children. However, in 2007, I became pregnant with our fourth child. I was told to come to the HEAL Africa Hospital to be followed in their pregnancy program. I continue to be followed to this day, taking my antiretroviral treatment. I was advised to bring our first 3 children for HIV testing.  The results were positive. I can remember that I cried all day long. I was asked to bring them to CAP [Children’s AIDS Program] for the follow up. At 18 months after birth, my fourth baby was tested for HIV and the result was negative. I gave glory to God. This was also the case for my fifth and sixth children, who were born in HEAL Africa and who all tested negative for HIV at 18 months of age. Out of our 6 children, only the first 3 children are HIV positive. They were born when we were not yet aware that my husband and I were carriers of HIV.

When the volcanic eruption occurred, I was sick and hospitalized in a health facility due to injuries following gunshot wounds. There is permanent insecurity in our neighborhood. A few months earlier I had received a stray bullet in my right leg from a shooting that had taken place in the neighborhood by armed bandits. We were then alerted that the volcano was erupting.   The lava had already reached the neighborhood where I lived, which is called BUHENE. It is located not far from the foot of the Nyragongo volcano. As the lava was heading towards the hospital in which I was being treated, all the patients cleared off, fleeing in areas deemed less at risk of being affected by the flow of volcanic lava. Limping with my traumatized foot, crutch in hand and with my intravenous drip in one of my arms, we headed to NDOSHO, a neighborhood located at the other end of GOMA. We met the next day with my family. My husband informed me that our house was already burnt down. Before the volcano, my husband and I tried to make a small business selling parts for motorcycles and bicycles. We weren't rich but our life wasn't bad at all. We had enough to eat and pay for school for our children.

But in addition to the volcanic eruption and the shooting, another unfortunate event left us economically vulnerable. It was the loss of all our savings in a local financial cooperative that had gone bankrupt. We were in such a situation that we were unable to afford the rent. We were obliged to disperse ourselves. Some children to be accommodated on the left in a host family, other children on the right in another host family. My husband went to his grandfather and I myself went to a cousin who agreed to welcome me to her home. Our economic situation was so difficult and hopeless that we did not know where to turn. Suicidal thoughts were going through my head all the time.

I do not know how the Children’s AIDS Program team knew that we were in this difficult situation because one day we had received their invitation to go to the clinic to receive some financial support as part of a fund within the clinic for families with extreme vulnerability. This message gave us great joy and relief. When we arrived at HEAL Africa, we received financial assistance of $200 (two hundred American dollars).  We had finally received the restart fund for our small commercial activities. On my side, with part of this money, I started to prepare and sell donuts on the road. My husband, on his side, took over the retail sale of spare parts for motorcycles and bicycles. Although we still have serious difficulties paying for our children's studies, we have been able to reunite our whole family again. We pay rent with the income from the business that we have set up and we are also able to have daily food for our family. I would like to thank with all my heart HEAL Africa and all its supporters for having positively impacted our lives. I am especially thankful for the medical care of my three children who are living with HIV. Their viral loads are undetectable and they are growing normally. Thank you.

Goma Maternal Newborn Child Outreach Project launch in partnership with HEAL Africa Hospital in June 2021 (Photo: HEAL Africa)

We are able to set up new services that help how we follow our patients. Using Global Strategies’ approach, we can follow how they are growing up and see them coming into certain levels of maturity.
Dr. William Bonane, Program Manager at HEAL Africa

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