Relief for people living with HIV

2 February 2017

PEOPLE living with HIV are set to get a nutritional boost after the United States Government availed US $4 million in response to drought affected areas in the country.

The support, which will also benefit those with Tuberculosis (TB), will come through the World Food Programme and United Nations Children’s Fund targeting Harare, Bulawayo and Mutasa districts with a focus on providing food assistance and nutrition rehabilitation for malnourished individuals living with HIV and Tuberculosis.

“These additional resources will complement US$127 million in emergency drought assistance which has been provided by the American people since the onset of the drought.

“We stand with the people of Zimbabwe as the effects of this drought continue. USAID continues to address Zimbabwe’s immediate food needs while also building resilience against future droughts,” said USAID Zimbabwe Mission Director Stephanie Funk.

World Food Programme country representative, Eddie Rowe said food security is critical especially for people living with HIV:

“These resources will ensure that people living with HIV can access the food and nutrients they need to adhere to treatment and live healthy, productive lives.”

The fund will see the World Food Programme scaling up its support from the current 2 348 beneficiaries to over 27 000 individuals in the coming months.

The boost comes at a time when hunger had been haunting people living with HIV among others in drought stricken areas.

The El Nino induced drought had led to serious food in securities and people living with HIV had been affected the most as medicines are quite toxic and demand a balanced diet.

Although the country has been receiving persistent rains this year that could see the drought being a thing of the past, the El Nino induced drought was already an impediment to adherence of anti-retroviral treatment.

In 2016, people living with HIV in Makoni district reported that hunger was a greatest challenge amid fears that it could be a major obstacle to treatment adherence.

Under this grant, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) will also expand its water, sanitation and hygiene activities in 10 drought-affected districts with high HIV prevalence.

Unicef country representative Dr Mohamed Ag Ayoya said in the wake of persistent rains, there was increased risk for diarrhoeal disease hence the need for the intervention to ensure the provision of clean and safe water.

“The rainy season has increased the risk of diarrheal diseases as many families, including people living with HIV, still do not have access to safe water and sanitation.

“This funding will enable us to save lives by increasing access to safe water, improving sanitary conditions, and providing much-needed information on hygiene and HIV.”

People living with HIV remain vulnerable to food insecurity, malnutrition and diarrhoeal disease and this will target 350,000 beneficiaries and aim to reduce morbidity and mortality from diarrheal diseases.

According to research, HIV treatment is more effective for those who are properly nourished, and antiretroviral medications should not be taken on an empty stomach.

Lack of food is directly correlated with non-adherence to treatment which can lead to increased viral load, opportunistic infections, progression of the disease, and a higher risk of transmitting HIV to others.

Food insecurity can also pressure people into harmful coping strategies, such as transactional sex, which can make them more vulnerable to HIV infection.

According to the National AIDS Council, ART programme in Zimbabwe was started in April 2004 with the objective of reducing morbidity and mortality due to HIV and AIDS; and improve the quality of life of people living with HIV.

While 1,4 million people are estimated to be living with HIV in the country, the number is set to double after the country adopted the World Health Organisation’s latest guidelines to test and treat to achieve the United Nations AIDS programme’s ambitious 90-90-90 target.

The UNAIDS targets seeks to have 90 percent of all people living HIV knowing their HIV status, 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy while 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression by 2020.

While the number of people living with HIV is set to double as the country moves towards achieving the UNAIDS targets, World Food Programme estimates that the number of people in need of food assistance in Zimbabwe could be more than 2, 4 million.

The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) contributed US $135 million towards’ Zimbabwe’s national response to HIV and AIDS in 2016, bringing total US funding for the HIV epidemic to over US $650 million since 2006.