A hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo has a death row aisle for female victims of HIV/AIDS, but most do not even know they are close to death, or even that they are infected. The deadly disease remains a taboo in the war-torn country, even in the capital.
This hospital built by Belgium colonizers in 1928 is the biggest in the DRC. It now has an aisle for female victims of HIV/AIDS.
Most are very sick, but they do not even know they suffer from the disease. Doctors say AIDS is considered so shameful, that victims refuse to even consider the possibility of a test.
One exception is Chouchouna Mukesinga. She agrees to talk to VOA, but not to have her face filmed. "I am getting treatment but it is very difficult. I vomit all the time. I have horrible stomach-aches. I know about these symptoms all too well. Both my parents died of AIDS and two of my children died as well. My husband also died of AIDS. I took care of my mother before she died from this horrible sickness. I always thought it was my fault that she had AIDS, because I was so young. Now it is me who carries this burden. I saw her nails fall off, and mine are starting to do the same. I saw the spots on her face, and I am starting to get those as well."
She says it is important for her to know her status.
"My only surviving son is only nine years old. He needs to study. He needs to live. So I am under intensive treatment. But still it does not seem to be going too well for me. I had to go to other hospitals before ending up here. Now I am treated better, but I still cannot stop vomiting and having diarrhea. I have lost 30 kilograms. I try to eat well but it is so difficult."
Doctor J.M. Bwanahali heads the care for AIDS patients. Since many are never told they have AIDS, he came up with another system for treating them. "Those who can be released from the hospital, we use what we call confidantes. They are told about the victim's AIDS status. Then, they try to make sure the patient takes the necessary medication and that they take it regularly. And we see these confidantes at least once a month."
Doctor Bwanahali says it very difficult to treat HIV/AIDS in Africa, because many victims are so poor, and have so very little to eat. Those who refuse to be tested, he says, endure an uncertain future, in near-total isolation.