When the doors of MSF's treatment centre opened in May 2002, the situation was critical: more than one million men, women and children were living with HIV in the DRC, but antiretroviral (ARV) treatment was scarce and unaffordable in the country. By the early 2000s, the virus was killing between 50,000 and 200,000 people each year, according to UNAIDS.
"For many, being infected with HIV was just a death sentence," says Dr. Maria Mashako, MSF's medical coordinator in the DRC. "The cost of antiretroviral treatment made it just inaccessible to most patients. Even MSF, in the early months of the centre, did not have ARVs. Our team could only treat symptoms and opportunistic infections. It was very hard.”
Clarisse Mawika, 60, was tested positive in 1999. She remembers these dark years all too well.