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2. Africa: Local food essential for HIV-positive people (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks)

When Diane Ndayizeye* was diagnosed with HIV three years ago, she was relieved to discover she could get life-prolonging antiretroviral medication (ARVs) free at a local hospital. What she did not realize was that the drugs would increase her appetite.

Already weak and unable to work, Ms. Ndayizeye often contemplates stopping the ARVs to suppress her appetite. She says she has only one reason to continue taking them. If she stops, she will likely die, and there will be no one left to care for her children.

Ms. Ndayizeye receives food aid from a local NGO, but uses it to feed her entire family, so the rations are far from adequate. The Burundian woman’s experience is not unlike that of countless other HIV-positive people who have access to ARVs, but struggle to obtain enough food.

Over the past year, rising food prices have made the situation worse. Many organizations provide food assistance to Africans living with HIV, but some have been forced to cut food aid. The World Food Programme announced last September that it was no longer able to support HIV-positive people in Uganda.

In Burkina Faso, the national AIDS control council was forced to reduce nutritional support to people living with HIV. Previously, all HIV-positive people received food rations. Now, only people who are starting ARVs are eligible, and only for their first six months of treatment.

The organization’s new strategy emphasizes the importance of locally-produced food.
It publishes a nutrition guide to help people living with HIV to identify nutritious local foodstuffs, including vitamin-rich guavas, cassava, and cashew apples, and iron-rich baobab leaves, dried okra, and fish.

Other Burkinabe organizations are supporting HIV-positive people to grow their own food. The local NGO REGIPIV advocates for the provision of fertilizer to people living with HIV. Another organization known as PAMAC plans to spend 1.5 million CFA (about 2,900 American dollars or 2,300 Euros) to help HIV-positive people start small businesses, which will provide money for good food.

Proper nutrition can lessen some of the side effects of ARVs, and is extremely important in boosting the body’s defenses against HIV. Fransiscah Yula is a nutritionist who counsels people living with HIV at Makueni District Hospital, eastern Kenya. She advises HIV-positive people to eat a healthy, balanced diet. But she says it is ironic advice, since the entire country is facing food shortages. National food security is needed to ensure that people living with HIV can access the food they need.

* not her real name