DRC: Kinshasa fashion highlights lack of ARVs

Photo: Junior D. Kannah/IRIN
The HIV-themed fashion show was intended to highlight an ongoing shortage of ARVs in the DRC
KINSHASA, 3 April 2012 (PlusNews) - Twelve HIV-positive women held a fashion show in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on 30 March to highlight the plight of tens of thousands of people with HIV/AIDS, and challenge donors and the authorities to provide adequate treatment.
"Last year we said, 'Let's have a generation without AIDS'," said Emilie, 37, a married social worker with three children, who participated. "Today, here in Kinshasa, we have a drugs stock-out. We've been given expired drugs, and now lenders are leaving us. How are we going to have an AIDS-free generation here in Congo if we do not have the medicines?"
Rachel, 38, who learned she was HIV-positive in December; said, "We must campaign until we get the medicines." Her four-year-old son died from an AIDS-related illness about a week before the fashion show.
"With ARVs [life-prolonging antiretrovirals] I am healthy. The fight against HIV is not over. I’m not keeping quiet any more," shouted the women. 
Médecins Sans Frontières ( MSF), an international NGO which helped sponsor the event, says more than a million of DRC's nearly 70 million people are HIV-positive, though many are unaware of their status. Some 350,000 people should be taking ARVs, but only 50,000 - fewer than 15 percent - are receiving treatment, "one of the lowest rates in the world".
Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) is almost non-existent. "Only an estimated 1 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women have access to PMTCT treatment. Without treatment, about one-third of their children will be born with HIV," said MSF.
The NGO provides ARVs to over 5,000 patients in six of DRC's 11 provinces, and said it "deplores the lack of investment by the Congolese government", which disburses less than half of the 7 percent of its health budget earmarked for fighting HIV/AIDS.
MSF also regrets that some donors "are pulling back or reducing their subsidies, like the Global Fund [to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria]”, which is the "largest provider of ARVs in DRC".
''How are we going to have an AIDS-free generation here in Congo if we don't have the medicines?''
"We have just negotiated to put 700 patients on ARVs in the next three months - a big step - but there is absolutely no funding for this. We have just the drugs," said Pascale Barnich-Mungwa, who works in DRC for Médecins du Monde, a humanitarian NGO.
She believes the fashion show will have a strong impact. "It is our responsibility to engage professionally with this struggle… It's important to have events like these because it gives them [HIV-positive people] a voice and helps legitimize their cause," said Barnich-Mungwa.
According to MSF, about 15,000 people are registered on a waiting list and need ARVs "urgently, otherwise they will die within three years".

Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews, Early Warning, Gender Issues, Governance, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Media - PlusNews, Prevention - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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