CONGO: HIV-positive couple marry, making history
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
BRAZZAVILLE, 5 July (PLUSNEWS) - For the first time in the history of Congo, a two people who admit openly that they are living with HIV-AIDS have married. They tied the knot at a sumptuous ceremony last weekend aimed at celebrating their union and fighting prejudice against the disease.
To a hearty round of applause, Valerie Mouellet, wearing a wedding dress, and Thierry Maba, exchanged rings and a kiss at the Brazzaville town hall last Saturday.
Now the couple want to have children to show people living with the virus that HIV-positive people can give birth to healthy babies.
Mouellet, who is president of the Association of Young HIV-Positive People Against AIDS (APJC), and Maba, who is a member of the group, both tested HIV positive more than a decade ago.
”We love each other and want to show through this act that we can brave the jibes and the prejudice,” said Mouellet after the wedding.
She discovered she was HIV-positive in 1993 when she voluntarily took a test, while Maba tested positive on returning from a trip abroad in 1991.
“At the time I just wanted to stop living,” said Maba. “But I recovered thanks to help from my friends, and later I joined the fight against AIDS at Valerie’s side as she was president (of the association).”
Mouellet said it was during their militant work inside the association set up in 2001 that they both realised it was possible to live for a long time with the disease “providing you change your sexual behaviour and follow appropriate treatment.”
The APJC has around 100 members, most of whom are on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) provided under the government’s Congolese Access to Antiretrovirals Initiative (ICAARV), a scheme set up in June 2003.
In April 2005, some 2,500 people were registered on ARV programmes in specialist centres at Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, the country’s two main cities.
They account for around 80 percent of the country’s estimated 100,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. The majority are women and young people aged between 15 and 29. Congo has an estimated population of 3.1 million.
According to the most recent study undertaken by the National Council to Fight AIDS (CNLS) in November 2003, 4.2 percent of Congo's adult population is HIV-infected. This figure is far lower than previous government estimates, which had put the infection rate at 10 percent.
“When I meet people I try to make them understand that nowadays people don’t die of AIDS the way they used to 10 years ago. You can live 10, 15 years or even longer if you follow treatment properly,” Mouellet said.
She would now like to have children with the help of a programme to prevent mother-child transmission called PTME that was set up in the capital Brazzaville and the Atlantic port city of Pointe Noire two years ago.
"We’re reassured by the results obtained in our country by this programme,” she said.
PTME coordinator Jean Angouno, who is a doctor, said that of the 292 children born to HIV-positive mothers since last November, only 15 were born with the HIV virus.
"Women who are infected follow a treatment during pregnancy to avoid the risk of contamination during childbirth. An HIV-positive woman can perfectly well give birth to a healthy child,” he said.
A total of 493 pregnant women were currently in the care of the PTME programme in the Congo, he said, noting that women living with HIV/AIDS have a 70 percent chance of giving birth to non-infected babies.
"Thanks to PTME, Valerie and Thierry will produce healthy children,” he predicted.
The couple hope their children, like their marriage, will help others living with the virus.
"We hope to raise enthusiasm among the thousands of people living with HIV who endure their agony in silence because of prejudice and discrimination,” said Maba.