• Wednesday, July 23, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    WORLD AIDS DAY 2009

    01 Dec 2009


    We share the wish of Marie Mendene Owono:  SEND AIDS AWAY.

    By M. Sayagues

    By M. Sayagues

    Marie Mendene  is an extraordinary activist from Cameroon and one of the first African women to say publicly that she lives with HIV, in the 1990s, when AIDS was a disease of shame and blame.

    This is one of my favourite photos about AIDS in Africa. I took it at Sunshine, her NGO in Douala, in 2003, before antiretroviral treatment became widely available. Only a few Cameroonians in cities could get the life-saving pills.

    The day I took the photo, Marie had queued for seven hours and  received only half of her monthly ARV pills. She was understandably upset about the poor logistics and delivery of medicines. AIDS magnified all the inadequacies of health systems.

    That was then. Today, nearly three million people in Africa are on ARV treatment. This seemed like a dream then, but activists were campaigning hard to make it come true.

    Marie had a clear vision of activism. “We should go beyond the begging bowl and the appeal to compassion, beyond the stage of being used to do prevention and awareness, and become part of real-decision making around AIDS,” she told me.

    Marie is to the right in the pic, with a fellow activist.

    Gabon’s people-friendly hospital

    11 Aug 2009


    The Ogooué seen from Dr. Schweitzer's home. Photo: M. Sayagues

    The Ogooué River seen from Dr. Schweitzer's home. Photo: M. Sayagues

    I decided to visit my Nicaraguan friend who stays in a village called Fougamou, in central Gabon. So I looked up the nearest town,  Lambaréné. It turned out to have a museum honouring Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who arrived there in 1913, built a hospital, and won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.

    I had never been interested in him but it seemed like a truly off-the-beaten path museum, just my kind. But what sold me on Lambaréné was the name of its river:    Ogooué.  I HAD to see a river with such a wondrous name.

    So I set off to Lambaréné on my way to Fougamou. Believe me, I was in the green heart of Africa. Green, as in rainforest.

    I am glad I went. The river is awesome. The museum is charming. It preserves the old hospital and personal quarters from the 1920s as they were originally.   More »