Congo: Fearing Rejection, Pregnant Women Avoid HIV Tests

Pregnant women in the Republic of Congo are often hesitant to be tested for HIV because of the stigma associated with AIDS and the fear of being rejected by their husbands and families, experts say. "The women are threatened by their husbands," said Jean Angouono Moke, who oversees mother-to-child prevention efforts in Congo. "In cases where they get tested and the tests are positive, they are scared."

"Despite sensitization campaigns, less than 60 percent agree to be tested during prenatal consultations," Moke said. "We want to reduce the rate of transmission, which is still at 6.2 percent here."

About 400 HIV-positive pregnant women sought care in the country's integrated health centers in 2006. According to Moke, most of these women resided in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, a port city and Congo's economic capital. About 100 doctors and more than 200 midwives who have been specially trained provide health care for these women.

Due to the large number of such cases, the Center for Mobile Treatment in Brazzaville last year launched a service aimed at preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission. With financing from the French Red Cross, a building is currently being constructed to provide maternity services for infected women.

In addition to stigma, cost is a factor. While AIDS treatment has been offered free of charge in Brazzaville since January 2007, exams and testing to prevent mother-to-child transmission can cost up to $60. This is a huge sum in Congo, where the government says 51 percent of people live on less than $1 a day.