I don't want to hide

10 septembre 2021

Maman Sylvie

PNUD Congo

With support from the Global Fund, UNDP in Congo supports the Ministry of Health and Population to strengthen access to HIV prevention and treatment services

 Maman Sylvie, who lives in Brazzaville (Republic of Congo), believes that being diagnosed as HIV positive should not be the equivalent of a death sentence, and has dedicated her life to helping people with HIV in the Republic of Congo.

For Sylvie, the fight is personal, because she herself has been living with HIV for 15 years.

“I was pregnant at the time, and went to the hospital for an antenatal consultation,” she says. “There were 22 women there, but I was one of only two who agreed to be tested for HIV. It was after the tests were carried out during this visit that I was informed of my status.”

The result came as a severe shock to Sylvie: “When I got the result, my life stopped, my whole body was shaking.”

As a mother of four children, Sylvie now had to learn to live with HIV, which many believed was tantamount to a death sentence. “A relative had already started making arrangements for my funeral, but I knew I would survive,” says Sylvie. “It took a while, but I came to terms with the illness and understood that with some discipline, I could continue to live.”

At that time, there was a lot of stigma against people living with HIV. Because of this, Sylvie kept her condition a secret for many years. “In the end, the disease does less than the stigma,” says Sylvie. “Many associate the disease with prostitution, which is false.”

Sylvie decided to help people in the same situation as herself. Formerly a dumpling vendor, she started campaigning for the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS and now works as a counsellor in a centre that supports people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.

As a community mediator, working for an NGO supported by a grant from the Global Fund to Fight HIV, TB and Malaria, Sylvie assists with patient guidance and support. Community mediators also try to stop patients interrupting treatment, as this can lead to resistance to antiretroviral medicines (ARVs), or the failure of treatment.

"I use my own story to explain to people that you can be HIV positive and stay alive,” says Sylvie.

In February of this year, the United Nations Development Programme in the Republic of the Congo received from the Global Fund more than 27 million euros, or about 18 billion FCFA, as part of the 2021-2023 grant support to the Congo to support the strengthening of the national response to HIV and tuberculosis.

This funding aims to strengthen access to prevention and treatment services for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria and to create resilient and sustainable systems for health. A specific goal is to significantly increase the number of people accessing life-saving antiretroviral treatment for HIV, with a particular emphasis on pregnant women.

During the lockdown, last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching people living with HIV became more difficult.

“We organized ourselves to make the treatment available during this time,” says Sylvie. “Travel was reduced during this period, so we went to visit the sick. We wanted to avoid at all costs the interruption of treatment with potentially fatal consequences. My testimony during the counselling sessions is important, my experience is encouraging for others because I am convinced that we can do anything.”

“Many people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The food kits which are distributed by UNDP are very essential for anyone who can no longer afford to eat. Some children have been abandoned by their families after their parents have died, because of misconceptions about the disease” says Sylvie.

"I am confident that in the last decade significant efforts have been made. We are alive because these efforts are continuing. Self-stigmatization should be avoided; one should not exclude oneself and feeling considered by the state is psychologically reassuring. Now, the struggle continues but without the stigma of the past, as far as I am concerned. I don't want to hide.”

The new Global Fund grants, which amount to more than US$ 64 million, represent a 97% increase over the previous three-year allocation cycle and will cover the 2021-2023 implementation period. In close partnership with the Ministry of Health, UNDP will implement the HIV and TB grant, and Catholic Relief Services will implement the malaria grant.

"The struggle continues but without the stigma of the past, as far as I am concerned. I don't want to hide"
Maman Sylvie