It has now been three and a half years since the beginning of activities of the DREAM program of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Kinshasa, and around 6.000 sick people have been reached and treated. Many dreams have been fulfilled, and many others are still “under construction”.
In agreement with the Ministry of Health of Congo and with the support of the Italian Cooperation, the Program has moved its first steps in 2011, with the aim of taking care of those who, affected by HIV-SIDA, Tuberculosis, Malaria, lived in the east block of the capital of the DRC.
But it was mostly thanks to the GENERALI Foundation that it was possible to build a health structure of excellence, which has united the clinical center and the laboratory, a true “excellence” in the sanitary field. DREAM has thus quickly become a reference center for the treatment of AIDS, which is completely free of charge, not only for the neighborhood, but also for the whole city. For the local population it became an important bond, and in fact in a short time the urbanization of the area has grown because many have built their homes close to the center, motivated also by the weekly distribution of drinking water offered by DREAM.
One of the main objectives of the Program has always been the prevention of the transmission of the virus from the mothers to their children. In Kinshasa many women who live in the most suburban areas don’t have access to the test and, if HIV-positive, to the treatment. To respond to this need, the Program has also become “DREAM_MOBILE”. With support from the GENERALI Group it was able to buy a 4×4 vehicle, capable of even crossing water streams and muddy terrain, and also able to be present every month in the ten maternity wards identified as being in more need of support. It has thus been possible to carry out more than 1.500 tests and many pregnant women, who resulted HIV-positive, have been offered the free treatment and the nutrition supplementation. Their children were born free of AIDS, a great hope for the mothers and for the country.
Next to the health center, throughout these years, the molecular biology laboratory has also become a reference in the country for the cure of AIDS, cooperating with the local and national sanitary structures, and more. It has been a while that the laboratory also provides assistance to Doctors Without Borders, for the processing of the samples for the analysis of the Viral Load, for their patients. The accreditation process of the laboratory for the quality control is active since last year, through the CDC network in Atlanta, and has received large and progressive recognition. An agreement was signed with the CDC/ICAP, locally, for the reception of the samples of the Viral Load, coming from their cure centers. In the last month a new device has been installed for the automatic extraction of the Viral Load, which will allow to increase the activity of the laboratory, both in quality and quantity, and to provide better diagnostic assistance to those who treat the HIV-positive in the country. It’s a dream come true. Many more are born.
In this last year, the program has gained a new innovation with the introduction of the Global Health Technology to meet the needs of that large portion of patients that have become stable or have improved their virological level thanks to therapy, who often present co-morbidity, of a different kind, with cardiological or dermatological impairments, or others. As a matter of fact in Africa a specialist checkup, where available, is always charged. Therefore, in most cases, unobtainable. The introduction of a telemedicine system, through a series of tools, allows the doctors of DREAM to send teleconsultations to a large network of Italian specialists and ask for a “second opinion”. In the same day, after having sent the query and the diagnostic assessments such as an electrocardiogram, it is possible to receive the report and the therapeutic indication.
In the difficult period such as that we are going through due to the economical crisis, one may sometimes think that it is impossible to support international solidarity projects. Looking at the results that have been obtained, at the accomplished dreams, at the wish to continue, with even more enthusiasm, a project aimed at the primary health of a country which is in the 186th place (out of 187) in the list of the Human Development Index, it is absolutely compulsory to thank the partners which have supported us, above all the GENERALI Foundation, true “main sponsor” of the DREAM Program in Kinshasa.
The Mbandaka DREAM centre is growing rapidly. With almost a thousand people tested and more than a hundred undergoing treatment the good news is spreading among the inhabitants of this town set in the Equatorial forest that they have not been forgotten and a visit to the centre by President Kabila’s twin sister bears witness to this.
Jeanette Kabila is President of the Mzee Laurent Desiré Kabila Foundation, a humanitarian organisation which also treats children with AIDS.
Jeanette, who is one of the President’s most influential advisors, was most impressed by the quality of the molecular biology lab and by the excellent standard of treatment given to the patients about 15 of whom are babies. One of these is Moise who is about one year old but weighs as little as a baby of a few months. He clings to life and surveys the world with his big, lively, curious eyes.
The therapy has given him new vitality and he is beginning to accept nourishment.
The centre has recently seen the birth of the first baby to be born under the vertical prevention programme, (the treatment given to the mothers during pregnancy). The mother’s joy at giving birth to a completely healthy baby, despite her own illness, was one of the most beautiful signals of hope that the centre has experienced.
These are the signals that speak to people like those of Mbandaka who do not talk about or listen to much on the subject of AIDS, fearing it as an illness without hope of a cure.
The presence of DREAM and of treatment which is totally free in a country where you have to pay for everything reopens the possibility of freedom from an affliction which until now has gone unnoticed and gives people hope that history and their destiny can be changed.
Once known affectionately as Kin “la belle” due to its beautiful gardens, wide roads, villas, the view over the Congo river, and above all, during the sixties, for it’s joyous nightlife, animated by the notes of the Congolese rumba. This school of melody spread quickly throughout the central and southern parts of Africa and continues to influence music today, (everybody in this part of the continent has learnt to say Bolingo nalingi yo, in lingala, meaning "My love, I love you").
It isn’t easy to find traces of this beauty in Kinshasa today. Over the last decades both immigrants from the immense provinces and refugees have flowed into the capital in the hope of finding work, decent services and a less insecure and isolated life.
The population of Kinshasa is approximately 10 million.
But what is life really like in this city?
The roads are full of holes, constantly congested, and unable to accommodate the thousands of cars, vans and trucks which circulate in a cloud of dust and smog. Only part of the thick thread of houses have running water and drains.
Electrical energy barely reaches the various areas of the city and is always slow in comparison to the growth rate of the metropolis.
Parents can’t always guarantee an elementary education for their children or access to health care.
Everything is supposed to be free, but in reality nothing is. Professors and doctors speak of salaries of several months still not paid by the state. In these circumstances they turn to fellow citizens, the people who utilize these services.
"Life is hard and difficult". This is the Leitmotiv of the people you speak to. Those who can se debrouille, they get by; those who can’t, find themselves in a perverse cycle which drags them down even further. For children, life is even more difficult: the number of children who live on the streets of Kinshasa is incalculable. All of these children are constantly exposed to violence and danger with no shelter or people to turn to.
In this kind of context, good news has an even greater value. They are the answer to silent requests, unexpressed cries. An answer to a deep desire of the Congolese people to confute the wide spread feeling of decadence.
There is in fact a sense of pride which can be perceived amongst the people which becomes dignity, higher and nobler thoughts, the refusal of any kind of surrender, the awareness of their own potential. This pride is expressed in the liveliness of their daily lives, in their music, and their joie de vivre, despite everything.
A sense of pride that can be seen in the way they deal with hardship and above all in their desire to start hoping again. The purchase of a vast piece of land will permit the building of a DREAM center which will include a center for prevention and treatment and a molecular biology laboratory in Kinshasa (the chosen area is Bibwa, a suburban area not too far out and easy to reach from the inner city areas). For these reasons this project has attracted the enthusiasm of many, offers and proposals of collaboration.
The signing of the agreement last November between the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and DREAM was truly a moment of great joy and faith in the resurrection of Congo. The congregation had already decided during the last chapter general to approach the AIDS problem in the capital, facing tremendous difficulties.
The meeting with DREAM, who have been active in finding original and efficient means to respond to the demands of the sick, meant that the projects could finally be carried out.
The determination of the sisters and the newly found hope aroused by DREAM are moving forward together in making life beautiful again for those who live in Kinshasa and to paint a better future, better than all the nostalgia for the past, for the Congolese capital and the entire country.
The President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila, accompanied by a large delegation including central Government ministers, the Vice-President of the Senate, the Governor of the province of Equateur and all the ministers of the province, has visited the new DREAM centre of Mbandaka.
The President was particularly interested in the molecular biology laboratory where the DREAM personnel were able to illustrate the use and potential of its state of the art equipment.
Such a marvel in the middle of the equatorial forest was cause for great satisfaction on the part of the President and his ministers.
The President also took note of deeply felt problems in Mbandaka such as the shortage of electric power and he promised to continue to follow DREAM’s future projects in the province and the country.
The last 4th of February the opening ceremony of the DREAM centre of Mbandaka has been held. In the presence of the Minister of Health of the Democratic Republic of Congo, of the governor at interim of the district of Equateur – of which Mbandaka is the capital -, of the bishop, of the mayor of the town, as well as the Italian and of the Order of Malta ambassadors.
There were also the delegates for Africa of the general council of the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity and a delegation of Sant’ Egidio, besides a good representation of the congolese medical world that struggles against AIDS, to various believers and many people.
A large participation for a big event. To point out that also in the heart of the congolese forest it is possible to do something of important to help the AIDS sufferers and all the population.
The speeches of the opening ceremony have all emphasized the extraordinary event.
The mood was of joyful gratitude and a special thanks was explicitly addressed to DREAM, to the Community of Sant’ Egidio, to the Daughters of Charity, to the Italian Cooperation, to the Assicurazioni Generali, to the "Children of the Danube" Association, to everyone, that is, that hoped and worked for this challenge to become true.
The laboratory of the Mbandaka center, as the same national organizers say, is better than the reference one of Kinshasa. Everyone has underlined the role that it will be able to carry out to serve all the region. Something permanent, lasting, free. Something that looks at the future in a country that is affected of many, continuous upsets and of some stepping out of the solidarity agencies.
The first DREAM patients were also present at the ceremony, and also those that, tested for HIV in the previous days, resulted negative. They anyhow felt part of the movement of trust that is developing around the center.
DREAM, in fact, has opened its doors to the public already some days before the official opening. The first group of patients – coming from a close sustained health center from the Daughters of the Charity where it was years that it wasn’t possible to carry out the examination for absence of the test – arrived in the late morning. 20 pregnant women, a little frightened, accompanied by a midwife.
The welcome has been immediately warm. Sr. Adrienne, a nurse, and Sr. Friderica, the coordinator, had explained the women what DREAM is and why they didn’t have to fear the test. "We are and will always be here to help you", they said, "to give you the medicines, to do the examinations, the tests, everything, and free of charge" (here in fact, like in the majority of Africa, health costs, and also the prenatal cares have a cost).
Leaving the center, the first patients, enthusiastic, invited all the pregnant women they met on the streets to go to DREAM. At the center therefore a short cue of women has formed, among which some very young, which didn’t have money to enter any prenatal center. Obviously they have all been welcomed … and the good news of that morning was that no women resulted positive.
An encouraging signal. But encouragement, hope and joy will also concern all those who will result positive. The good news of the days following the opening will be that who is sick will be able to to be treated, that the children of the hiv-positive women will be able to be born healthy. A turning point in a town of 700,000 residents like Mbandaka, where the predominance of the illness is estimated around 5%.
This DREAM Center is the result of a long process of discernment and of a story that has the name of Love. While so many people and many organisms in the world show great pessimism towards the African Continent for what concerns the care for those who live with the AIDS virus, the Community of Sant’ Egidio demonstrated a large interest and its protocol of excellence used from the program DREAM has infact proved the opposite. The success of the work realized with the collaboration of the Daughters of Charity in the hospital of Chokwé in Mozambique, has brought in 2005, after thinking over and discernment, the Company of the Daughters of Charity to undertake a partnership with the Community of Sant’ Egidio for a better service to our brothers and sisters who suffer from the HIV syndrome.
Our founder, Vincent De Paul said to the Daughters of Charity: "Ten times a day you will go to see the poor and ten times you will meet with God". So he referred to the Gospel of Mathew 25, 40: "Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me". This was the driving force of his action towards the poor of his time in the France of the XVII° century, because the Poor were, according to his expression, "his burden and his pain". To his follow up, we, Daughters of Charity, have to try to make ours that dynamism that characterized him, to bring help and comfort to our suffering brothers and sisters …
This is the charisma of our two communities that brought us together most, to live that dynamism described by member of Sant’ Egidio like "an alliance with the Poor".
And you, Congolese brothers and sisters, collaborators of this DREAM center, you, dear Sisters of mine, Daughters of Charity of the Province of Congo, in the name of the vincenziano ideal, you will bring this service from above "with the quality, the skill, the respect of the person, the loving kindness and the compassion" among our brothers and sisters that live with the HIV-AIDS. Love every ill person that comes to you, because love gives and returns hope and revives in the person that suffers a new breath of life. That no mistake for negligence or any other justification will disappoint the hopes and the expectations that the ill and ourselves have on you.
Sister Wivine Kisu
Daughter of Chatity