In Conakry, Guinea, a wall of fear and resignation, typically built by AIDS around those it afflicts, is starting to crumble.
Some time ago, a group of sick women who come to our centre, around 20 of them, started to meet once a week to talk about their personal experience and to compare it with that of others. Strong feelings of solidarity and friendship are being forged among these women, who have all lived through suffering – albeit each in a different way – because of the disease and even more, because of the solitude and stigmatization that come with it. However, our patients discover that they have more in common than the hope of feeling better and of finding new courage in their hands, courage that comes from regained physical strength and from the improvement felt in their bodies, or witnessed in their children receiving treatment with DREAM. They find they also share the feeling that they have received a big gift, which could be transmitted to others, thus winning over resignation and discouragement.
“Yesterday and today are not the same. Yesterday’s suffering is no longer here,” said Fanta. “Without you, I really would have ended up badly. This disease is terrible if you have no money: I couldn’t even manage to walk anymore. Now I have faith in God and in you, forever.” The disease caused many neurological problems for Fanta, so that her relatives started saying she was going mad and eventually had her locked up in the “cabano” (this is what people in Conakry call the psychiatric department of the city hospital). Now Fanta is well and she comes to meetings with her child, Muhammad.
At the meeting, the story of one is intertwined with the stories of the others: they remember when they were together in hospital, with their sick children, without anyone to explain anything to them (“My child was admitted and they told me: ‘you have the same disease’ and that was it. It was only when I arrived here that Dr Pierre explained to me that I had AIDS,” says Aicha). They recall how together, they walked the path leading from the hospital to the DREAM centre (the two places are very close to each other), how they saw a steady improvement in their own health and their children’s. Many moments are remembered with precise clarity. “It was a Saturday, 2 December, when I found out I was HIV-positive. My husband told me seven years after he got to know it from doctors in Donka,” says Mariame, who today has a baby born within the vertical prevention programme.
On the other hand, at the meeting, each one deepens her knowledge. The women find the courage to ask many questions and thus understand more and more how infection is transmitted and especially how it can be prevented. In this way, they see how it is possible to live free from the nightmare of infecting one’s relatives, children and sisters. Many women have suffered precisely because of the silence and rejection of their relatives.
Desperation gives way first and foremost to amazement at finding people who are somewhat unique at DREAM. “These are people who help because of God. Here the doctor gets angry for your own good if you do not turn up for an appointment: he takes it so much to heart, it’s almost as if he was the one who was ill,” s