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DRCongo AIDS Victims Often Ignorant of Status

United Nations statistics say women are the most numerous victims of HIV/AIDS in Africa. In the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, VOA's Nico Colombant went to the main hospital in the capital, Kinshasa, where there is an aisle for women who have the deadly virus. Some of them refuse to know their status.

Doctors and nurses quietly shuffle through what they call "death row," here in a woman's section of the country's main hospital.

All the women have full blown AIDS. Most, however, refuse to be tested.

One exception is Chouchouna Mukesinga.

"I am getting treatment but it is very difficult," she said. "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, like mine are starting to. I saw the spots on her face, and I am starting to get those as well."

She says it was important for her to know her status.

"I had to know. My only surviving son is only nine years old," she added. "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."

Dr. J.M. Bwanahali heads the care for AIDS patients. He says many of them do not know their status, because they do not want to and because they are too ashamed.

He says, for each victim, he tries to get a caretaker from outside the hospital. He says victims need psychological comfort. He says they need someone who helps them eat better, live a cleaner life, as well as take their medication.

He says he believes AIDS is worse in Africa than elsewhere, because social conditions for the poor are so difficult here and make treatment much more difficult.