AIDS, A Time Bomb in Congo

by Lillian Moir

The civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo is over, but another "war" is being waged in the country, this one more deadly than the war which killed an estimated 3.3 million people between 1996 and 2003.  The newest war is against the rising incidence of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The Community of Disciples of Christ (CDCC) reports that the civil war brought with it troops from  Angola, Burundi, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe who were HIV positive or had AIDS. The virus  was passed on the Congolese who now must deal with related health and social issues, according to Rev. Sandra Gourdet, Africa executive for the Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ.

In Mbandaka, the Disciples Community reports prostitution has increased. Girls, including those who are under age, became prostitutes to survive. But the cost was high in social terms. The combatants proposed more money for sexual relations without condoms.  Women become pregnant from the combatants.  In addition, women and children also face the added dangers of sexual violence and sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS.

In the past, soldiers committed sexual violence; today, more cases of sexual violence are being committed by civilians, by parents on their offspring or by superiors on their associates, the church reports.

Today, statistics about AIDS indicate an increase of HIV positive cases in Mbandaka and in the Equator Province in general.  The church fears an explosion of AIDS which will decimate a large part of the population of Equator Province, and in Congo. 

Local organizations and churches have put in place seminars, awareness campaigns, multiple activities and strategies, using peer educators.  The messages appear to pass more easily between people who have similarities of age and sex than between different people who don't trust each other.  Also, all age groups are not menaced similarly, and women, often victims of sexual violence, are at more risk than men.

The strategy of peer educator consists of giving accurate information about AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases to combat rumors, which are often the basis of risky behavior.  The CDCC and the Association of Evangelical Churches of Lolonga (CADELU)  have trained peer educators in the framework of the AIDS program of these churches with German partners, Churches United in Mission.

The educators cannot reach as many of their peers as they would like due to the lack of transportation, said Rev. Gourdet, a former missionary in the DRC.