Bridging food security gap
In this final part of the series HIV and food security our reporter BOBBY KABANGO looks at interventions made to help on some people who are food insecure and have no access to health facilities but were diagnosed with HIV in Traditional Authorities (T/A) Somba and Kuntaja in Blantyre district.
About 1 500 people in only two T/As Somba and Kuntaja in Blantyre district were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
Over 1 000 of these, have no access to health centres in their areas and have to walk for seven hours to get to the nearest hospital for the lifesaving antiretrovirals (ARVs).
While a majority of them are food insecure.
But the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that energy requirements of HIV-infected individuals should be increased by about 10 percent from the time of infection and by 20 percent to 30 when chronic opportunistic infections or HIV-specific conditions are present.
WHO also recommends that HIV-infected patients should be assured of at least one recommended daily allowance of most vitamins because food insecurity in HIV-infected individuals heightens the vulnerability to, and worsens the severity of, each the bodies condition.
Experts say impact of food insecurity manifests through the debilitation of the most productive household members, decreased household economic capacity, decreased household agricultural output, and increased caregiver burden.
They warn that food insecurity leads to increased behavioural risk of HIV transmission, reduced access to HIV treatment and decreased ART adherence.
In response to the growing recognition of this vicious cycle, international multilateral and nongovernmental organisations have suggested to governments improved integration of food and HIV/Aids programming activities.
But in the absence of government intervention, non-State actors are stepping in to help. Nancholi Youth Organisation (Nayo) is one of the organisations that has stepped in to provide support to the 1 500 people living with the pandemic in the area of Somba and Kuntaja.
The non-governmental organisation is based in Nancholi, Blantyre. It is a small organisation and struggles to give interns nutritional support to people living with HIV, according its spokesperson Faith Chikwewa.
The task before them is huge and they cannot cope.
“We only support 171 people with palliative care and food every month. In short, about 1 329 people need help,” she says.
Chikwewa says they are not able to provide food and palliative care to the 1 329 because of financial constraints.
“These people were supposed to receive food every month and palliative care all the time. But we can’t afford; hence, only 171 are able to receive food and drugs every month,” she explains.
Chikwewa believes those who manage to walk 20 kilometres to Chilomoni Health Centre or Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre get help there.
“The number of people being helped is always increasing but resources are always needed to reach out to the poor and in need,” she adds.
Chikwewa says women and children are the focus of a feeding programme the organisation is running, whereby nutritious food is distributed to individuals and families.
“We are providing a bag of maize, cooking oil, ground nuts, beans, Likuni phala, salt, soap and sugar to each person once per month,” she said.
The programme, she explains, started in 2005 but continues to face a lot of challenges due to hunger that has affected people in the two areas.
“Our support is only to a person who is diagnosed with HIV, but due to hunger you will find that a family of about seven members is using the same food rations provided to patients,” Chikwewa says.
Initially, the organisation started working with youths and the mission was to help young people suffering from the pandemic.
Nayo teams—through an initiative called Stepping Stone for Disadvantages (SSD) programme—would engage young people in their localities and provide medication.
Through the programme Nayo has been able to provide pain killers, condoms, food and emotional support to those that are chronically ill and unable to access hospital care and services.
“We use a church building as a clinic, people come to the church structure to access care. That’s what we can afford, but we are able to help poor people,” she says and asks for more funding so that they could continue and scale up care for people living with the pandemic in the two chiefs.
“Like on food, we are trying to support all people but as the population is increasing, it is getting hard for us to reach all the people in need of the food,” said Chikwewa.
The next plan is to have a laboratory cancer screening centre so that they could work with doctors and partners to help more people with different medical conditions associated with HIV and Aids.
Group Village Head Mpagaja in T/A Somba is appealing government and other organisations like Nayo with efforts of helping people living with HIV.
“My people are walking long distances to access medication a situation that has resulted in malnutrition, patients missing doses thereby increasing their risk to death.
She says some of her subjects also complain about stomach pains and that they are feeling weak because they take medications without food
“Many lives could have been lost if it were not for the support of the NGO. We need help,” pleads Mpagaja. n