Breast-Feeding With AIDS

Feb. 16, 2005
Democratic Republic of Congo

Words don't mean the same thing in the Congo as they do in New York. The place we went yesterday was called a "hotel," but if I used that word it would be inaccurate. It was a patch of dirt surrounded by four sides of wood with a strip of metal resting on top. When you walked in it was dark and the air was bad. There were four people in there, all dying. I stepped slowly because of the dark and because I felt there was a lot in that room that could damage you. I found a seat on a wooden chair frame with no cushion against the wood. I could make out two woman in the dark, one baby and a man who was sitting on a board that was nailed higher up against the wall to my right. He was a little man, something wrong with one leg, and he was perched up there. He was excited, talking loud because of the "whiteys" and the cameras. The "hotel" didn't get many visitors.

The woman across from me had AIDS. The interview concerned exactly how she got it. During the interview I learned that the woman next to her also had AIDS, and had gotten it the same way. This will be part of a series of reports next week on FOX. Then, after more questions, I learned the man on the perch also had AIDS. I had to quiet him down without us getting kicked out.

The woman we were interviewing was coughing a lot. It was a tiny, narrow, dark room so she was just a foot away and every few minutes I learned someone else in the hotel had AIDS. The coughing was steady. No mouths were covered because coughing was as common as breathing. I felt the air was bad and wanted to get out of there, but I wanted to get the soundbites I needed.

The woman we were interviewing had a child on her lap. During the interview she opened her leather top and began breast-feeding the child. I asked through the interpreter in Swahili if she realized that AIDS could be passed through breast-feeding. The response was no, but she said it did not matter anyway since she had no choice. So the whole time the interview was going on this baby was sucking from the breast of a mother with AIDS.

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Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.