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 Tuesday 30 October 2007
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CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: "We also have a right to live"

Photo: A. Findlay/OIM
Living happily ever after
BANGUI, 23 May 2007 (PlusNews) - Christian-Bernard and Clémentine Miangué are clear about one thing: they are not going to hide that they happen to be HIV-positive, or be deprived of the right to create a home together.

Two years ago, first at the town hall and then at a church in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), Christian-Bernard, a single father with a 25-year-old daughter, married Clémentine, mother of a seven-year-old son, in the presence of their friends, parents, government representatives, diplomats and numerous curious onlookers.

This much publicised union of two people living with the virus was seen as an important step in the fight against stigma in a country where HIV/AIDS is synonymous with shame and death.

"I decided to get married, not to start a family, but rather to have a home like any other responsible person," said Christian-Bernard, 38. "We [people with HIV] also have a right to live."

He told IRIN/PlusNews that marriage was also a way of "avoiding a spirit of vengeance and becoming a sexual vagabond".

Turning the corner

Christian-Bernard might not be exaggerating. He had originally intended to enter the priesthood, but changed his mind and qualified as an accountant. As a young professional, with money to burn, he grabbed what he imagined was the good life with both hands.

"I changed sex partners without worrying about STIs [sexually transmitted infections] although AIDS already existed, and one day, what had to happen did happen."

In 1996 Christian-Bernard became ill. His doctor diagnosed a lung infection and treated him for three months, but he again fell sick. Worried, he decided to take an HIV test.

When the result came back - HIV-positive - it was a huge blow, Christian-Bernard recalled. He retested several times, but the result didn't change.

Frightened of being rejected by his colleagues, Christian-Bernard decided to leave his job. "I did not want to make my colleagues curious even though I had a good adviser and a good doctor to look after me," he said.

To avoid isolation, Christian-Bernard approached the Association of People Living with AIDS where he was an active member and later became its coordinator.

Through his work he met Clémentine, 35, a mother of a young HIV-negative son, and they fell in love. The next step - getting married - seemed natural, but revolutionary in CAR, where despite the death and destruction of years of civil war, AIDS is still stigma-laden.

Fears and hopes

Christian-Bernard and Clémentine Miangué, however, have encouraged other HIV-positive people to publicly admit their status and take the plunge and get hitched.

"The greatest fear HIV-positive patients have is that the doctors will tell them not to have children," explained Christian-Bernard.

At the end of 2005, scarcely four percent of the approximately 19,000 HIV-positive pregnant women in the CAR were able to access drugs to block the transmission of the virus to their new-born babies, according to the United Nations.

Without antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, between 20 and 45 percent of children born to HIV-positive mothers are at risk of being infected.

With an HIV prevalence rate of 10.7 per cent, CAR is the most affected country in Central Africa. About 49,000 people need ARVs, but only an estimated 3,850 people are accessing the life-prolonging medication.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Care/Treatment - PlusNews, (IRIN) PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, (IRIN) Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.