Françoise Kahindo, Democratic Republic of Congo
Support, awareness, prevention: Fighting HIV/AIDS in the DRC
Françoise Kahindo learned she was HIV positive in 1997. At the time, there was no free testing centre in Goma, the town in the Democratic Republic of Congo where Françoise lives, and the clinic provided testing only with the consent of the husband. After many attempts and despite the refusal of her husband, Françoise discovered her status. Shocked and traumatised, Françoise didn’t think she could live with the illness.
Over time, Françoise realised that she needed “someone to follow her, to listen and speak to”. When her husband passed away from the disease, she decided that she would spend her life working with HIV/AIDS patients.
“While speaking with them I wanted them to no longer believe in witchcraft, I wanted them to accept HIV/AIDS. I wanted to let people affected by the disease get involved in the fight against it, to change their behaviour,” she says.
Françoise adds, “It was very difficult. Without a testing center, most patients were in denial.” Physicians at healthcare center could not identify the disease due to lack of knowledge. Patients were isolated and stigmatised. But through her daily visits and knowledge of the disease, Françoise gained patients’ trust, encouraging patients to seek testing when they displayed symptoms.
In 2003, the first voluntary testing centers finally opened their doors in the DRC. A psychologist at the Community Baptist Hospital in central Africa (CBCA) in Goma, asked Françoise to work in a testing center and to participate to a technical training on the virus, prevention and support in Kampala, Uganda. Seeing the advanced state of care in Uganda and with the technical knowledge she acquired during training, Françoise decided to create an association. The association is non-denominational in order to discuss all topics including condoms and family planning.
In 2004, the association UNIE VIE SIDA was born. Its goal: to accompany patients, take them out of hiding, change their behaviour to reduce the spread of the virus and change Congolese society’s vision of HIV/AIDS.
When in 2004, Françoise began to testify to raise awareness, she was alone and walked around the churches. Today, more than 500 people, all volunteers, relay messages from the association. "In the past six years, the image of people living with HIV/AIDS has changed in Goma,” she says. “We have shifted from simply surviving to living.”