HIV / AIDS Stories
Stories about how WFP is assisting people with HIV and tuberculosis.
ROME – Ten years ago, while responding to a drought in southern Africa, WFP recognised that hunger was weakening the immune systems of people with the disease and getting in the way of their access to treatment.
In a region of the world devastated by the AIDS pandemic, WFP launched its first ever programme targeting the nutritional needs of people infected with the virus.
While providing patients with the nutrition they need to fight off the virus, these programmes also make sure that people with HIV don’t have to choose between treatment and food.
Today, WFP reaches more than 2.3 million people affected by HIV in 34 countries with targeted food and nutritional assistance. Here are three people who show how those programmes save lives.
The Crocodile Man
A crocodile handler in Zimbabwe, Langton Dzeka says his close call wasn’t with a reptile. In 2011, he found out that he was infected with the HIV virus and started losing weight. Today, he’s on the rebound and back at work with the crocs thanks to a programme that provided him with nutritious food. Read more
Thanks to the chicken farm she has built up in recent years, Pong Onn is now able to look after herself and her daughter. But she had to weather a series of crises after learning that she was HIV positive. She says that without support from WFP and a local Cambodian NGO she might well have died. Read more
The Business Woman
Khumbu Shiba, in Swaziland, has been HIV-positive for three years. At 60 years old, and with only a meagre pension to live on, things were tough to begin with. Food assistance has enabled her to regain her health and start a pig-rearing business. Read more
2012 World AIDS Day Report
WFP is one of 11 co-sponsors of UNAIDS, a UN Joint Programme that works to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
World AIDS Day on December 1 marks ten years since WFP began providing specialised nutritional assistance to people suffering from the HIV virus. Ensuring that patients get the right nutrition and don’t have to choose between treatment and food is critical to winning the fight against the disease.
SWAZILAND – Khumbu Shiba,* 60, has struggled with HIV for many years with little assistance from others.
For Khumbu Shiba, who has been HIV-positive for three years, WFP’s food and nutrition assistance has meant all the difference. Before, she was barely able to care for her family, and felt very weak. Now, she has regained her health and has even started her own business.
Agnes lives in the Eastern Region of Ghana, the region with the highest rate of HIV prevalence in the country. She is a Model of Hope and Peer Educator volunteer in the regional hospital, where she encourages people to check their HIV status and provides counselling who those who test positive.
Since 2000, when Agnes found out she was HIV-positive, life has been difficult. She lost her first two children, then her husband left her and their two other children, who were also HIV-positive. At the time, knowledge about HIV in the community was limited, and no medication was available. She and her children became much sicker and weaker. Moreover, strong stigma against the disease meant that, eventually, Agnes lost most of her business in the community. With her husband gone, life became a real struggle.
Agnes and her family have received assistance over the years, but food has always been a challenge.
“For those of us taking antiretroviral drugs, our most basic need is food to eat so that we can take our medication regularly,” Agnes said. “That is why we are all so grateful to WFP for the food they are providing us now.”
WFP provides food to 3,000 people living with HIV and their families in Ghana. Monthly rations include the highly nutritious, fortified food Super Cereal, as well as maize, beans, vegetable oil and salt. Rations are provided when patients come to health centres to collect their medicine.
Of all the food commodities that WFP provides, Agnes is most appreciate of the salt.
“Salt is a very basic and non-expensive food item, but for those of us who are HIV-positive, we often have so little money that we cannot even buy salt,” she said. “I believe that a person who gives you salt has thought about you so much that he or she is prepared to cater for your most basic need.”
Thanks to WFP's food assistance, there is enough food at home for Agnes' family of seven, which comprises her husband, who returned two years ago, one step child, her own two children, and two adopted HIV-positive orphans.
Although they are grateful for the food they receive, Agnes and her peers hope that, one day, they will earn enough money to feed themselves and their families. With a full stomach, Agnes knows that her medication works better and her future is brighter.
For many years, not having enough to eat meant that Agnes struggled to stay on her antiretroviral treatment. Thanks to food assistance from WFP, she can now take her medication more regularly, provide for her family and help others in her community.
MONROVIA -- Florence, 39, didn’t know she was HIV+ until two years after her husband’s death. He died of AIDS, but never told her what his illness was or that she too had probably contracted the virus.
She only discovered she was HIV+ after she had started a new life with another man and was pregnant with his child. She went to the hospital in Monrovia for routine tests and was told the news.
“I was sad and angry, if I had known I could have protected myself,” she says in an interview at the Redemption Hospital in the Liberian capital.
It took a while to accept the situation. But because she is a strong woman, Florence gradually overcame the shocks. Food assistance, delivered through the HIV unit at the Redemption hospital, played a crucial role.
“When I was pregnant I came here to get my treatment and I got food from WFP. I still get food from WFP to help with the drugs. The drugs are strong and having the right food helps me fight the disease,” she says.
Thanks to the food and the medication, which she takes religiously, Florence is able to work support her six children. She sells soft drinks.
Recently, she has started to do volunteer work, helping fellow Liberians who find themselves in similar situations as she did.
Florence is part of a team working out of Redemption Hospital. She and other HIV/AIDS patients go out into the local community to talk about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. They share their own stories and encourage people to get tested. On Fridays they run a support workshop with 4 other volunteers at the hospital.
“I do that for my family. I was very sad when I was diagnosed but now I can see a future without HIV/AIDS, and I have put it behind me.”
She has had her children tested for HIV and they are negative.
The medical staff coordinating Florence’s volunteer team say HIV/AIDS cases in the hospital are increasing for adults, but they suggest this is because there is more awareness about it and people are talking about HIV/AIDS more.
The work done by Florence and her fellow volunteers is good, they say, as it makes people see that it’s OK to talk about their situation and that there is a solution.
Learning that she was HIV+ and that her husband had hidden the truth of his condition from her was a double shock for Florence, who lives in Liberia’s capital Monrovia. But with support from WFP, she has turned her life around and is hopeful about her family’s future.
Just how many people does WFP feed each year? How much does that cost and where does it get the money? Find the answers to these questions and more in this infographic about WFP—the world’s largest humanitarian aid agency.
[NB. This infographic has been updated. Go here for new version]
DEBRE ZEIT--Belaynish Dabe, an HIV-positive mother of six children, used to struggle to feed herself and her children due to a lack of regular income.
She grew only maize, which she could harvest once a year—not enough to feed the whole family. When her HIV-positive husband became severely weakened from the disease, the neighbours used to say, “Why are you even taking him to the hospital? It seems that his death cannot be prevented anymore.”
But Belaynish remained optimistic.
She and her husband began receiving nutritious food rations from WFP for six months. With a full stomach, they were able to improve their nutritional status, regain their strength and better adhere to their treatment. WFP’s food support to people living with HIV, which includes wheat, corn-soya blend, fortified vegetable oil and pulses, helps ameliorate the double burden of lack of income and deteriorating health.
In addition to receiving food rations, Belaynish began participating in WFP’s livelihood assistance programmes, which act as social safety nets for people affected by HIV. She is one of 2,800 people living with HIV in Debre Zeit, where WFP, together with the NGO RATSON, supports the HIV-affected population through community-led activities and trainings like urban gardening.
In Ethiopia, the rate of people living with HIV in urban centres is up to 7.4% - much higher than in rural areas. Throughout the country, WFP supports 126,000 people affected by HIV with food support and livelihood assistance to help them return to a socially and economically stable life.
For more than a year now, Belaynish and her family have not had to rely on food assistance to survive, as she and her husband are strong enough to grow their own food. “I used to struggle before, when we only had tomatoes,” said Belaynish. Now, they are able to sustain themselves through their own urban garden: bananas, peppers, cabbage and sugar cane. Moreover, they have a surplus that they sell to their neighbours. Last year they were even able to buy a cow with their savings, who just gave birth to a calf. What’s more, her children are able to attend school.
Now, Belaynish and her husband go to the hospital only once every two months now and have resumed their normal lives. “Thank God, we’re alive,” she says.
Belaynish is proud of her achievements, but she’s not done yet. Belaynish’s next goal is to further diversify her income by planting and selling tree seedlings.
With the help of WFP's food support and livelihood assistance programmes, Belaynish Dabe and her HIV-positive husband no longer struggle to feed themselves and their children. WFP's food support to people living with HIV helps ameliorate the double burden of lack of income and deteriorating health.
WASHINGTON DC — The connection between food and HIV treatment is not an obvious one, but for millions of people around the world, this connection is vital to both lives and livelihoods.
When high health care costs mean that a family can’t put food on the table, when malnutrition means an HIV patient has a greater risk of dying or when not having enough to eat means experiencing intolerable side effects from treatment, food and nutrition can make the difference between life and death.
“Fortunately, we’ve seen both scientifically and in our own programmes, that when we help people living with HIV overcome hunger and malnutrition, we also help them to fight off illness and regain their health and strength,” said WFP Chief of Nutrition and HIV Policy Martin Bloem.
At the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC (AIDS2012), Bloem moderated a discussion of health and policy experts from around the world to discuss the impact of food assistance in the fight against HIV.
“By providing a safety net for families that have lost a source of income and who face rising expenses, we encourage people to come to clinics to receive and stay on treatment,” he said.
Speaking at the event, which was co-hosted by Harvard Medical School and Partners In Health, Rwandan Minister of Health Agnes Binagwaho remarked on the situation in her country.
“Food is a human right. But most people living with HIV don’t have enough food, and they need more food. So the only thing to do is to give it to them.”
Case in point
When Belaynish and her husband, both of whom are HIV-positive, started receiving nutritious food from WFP, they felt healthier and were better able to adhere to their treatment.
Belaynish also participated in community activities, like urban gardening, to supplement her irregular income. Now, more than a year later, Belaynish and her husband are again strong enough to grow their own food and no longer rely on food assistance to survive.
In 2011, WFP provided food and nutrition support for 2.3 million people living with HIV and TB—the number one killer of people with HIV—moving one step closer to the goal of universal access to treatment.
Hunger and malnutrition are significant obstacles to the global fight against the HIV virus. A growing consensus of experts at the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC (AIDS 2012) agreed that helping patients with HIV meet their nutritional needs can make the difference between life and death.
In the region of Eldoret, in Western Kenya, it seems everywhere you look, farmers are busy tending their fields. Growing food is how most people make a living around here.
Western Kenya is also a region where the HIV infection rate is high. The Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH) is an organization that provides health services for Kenyans living with HIV/AIDS. But their action goes further and they are constantly looking for innovative ways to help their patients live productive lives.
AMPATH has partnered with the World Food Programme (WFP) in more than one way. People who come to them receive HIV medications and for six months, they receive food from WFP for themselves and their families to ensure they have enough to eat and to improve the success of their medical treatment.
“We believe that after 6 months, our patients will have become strong so they can go back and do their usual chores,” said Esther Oduli, a social worker with AMPATH. Most of the people receiving treatment own small plots of land where they grow maize, beans and other vegetables. AMPATH thought that with a little bit of help, they could farm more and better.
When Purchase for Progress, a WFP pilot programme that connects farmers to markets, came to the region in 2009, AMPATH saw an opportunity to improve the resilience of the people they assist.
“They get trainings, a lot of trainings, so they no longer do things the usual way,” explains Oduli. “They also know that they have a market. And because they sell to the World Food Programme, they need standards. The food has to be clean, it has to be quality and they think they have learnt a lot.”
Oduli says that partnering with WFP's Purchase for Progress has generated sustainable and reliable income opportunities for the HIV positive farmers she works with. They have learned new things about agriculture and business.
In some cases, the food grown by the farmers and purchased by WFP ends up on the plates of patients who have just joined AMPATH’s nutrition programme for people living with HIV/AIDS. “This food goes to benefit somebody else the same way they benefited,” concludes Esther Oduli. That's what you can call going full circle!
In Kenya, Purchase for Progress helps farmers living with HIV/AIDS sell their harvest to the World Food Programme.
Sandra and Guida, six-month-old twins living in central Mozambique, were born premature and HIV positive. After a community activist identified them as at-risk of malnutrition, the twins began receiving nutritious, fortified food from WFP in addition to their antiretroviral treatment.
In Mozambique, WFP provides nutritional food to help ease the burden of high rates of both malnutrition and HIV. This food helps twins like Sandra and Guida regain their health.
He has just overcome a tough battle with TB after seven months on treatment in a country that has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates, estimated at 13.7%. Even in his victory over the disease, a major worry weighed him down. Where was his food going to come from?
Thanks to WFP’s cash and voucher approach under the Social Safety Net Programme, which provides assistance to chronically ill, food-insecure households in Harare and Bulawayo, he can afford a few months of rest as he ponders his next move.
Under the programme implemented by WFP through cooperating NGOs and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, malnourished clients are given SuperCereal, a fortified blend of maize meal, soy protein and micronutrients that packs extra nutritional power. In addition, their households receive an electronic voucher to buy pre-determined food at selected retail shops; the voucher's value depends on their family size, and includes ‘cash back’ of US$5. During registration, adults’ weights and heights are measured to determine body mass index while children have their upper arm circumference measured to gauge if they are malnourished.
For many vulnerable people like Jairos, getting food for themselves and for their families is an on-going challenge. People on treatment need to eat properly for their medication to be effective, and Jairos knows this all too well.
“These tablets (ARVs) make me hungry and without food I can’t be cured” he says.
Although food is now available on the market, prices remain high for families with little or no income. People benefitting from the programme get 10 kg of Super Cereal on registration and vouchers which entitle their households to a ration of mealie-meal, beans and vegetable oil.
The voucher scheme supports some 8,000 clients and their families and is operating at various health centres in Harare and Bulawayo. The assistance is given until clients recover for up to six months, or longer if required. Discharged clients graduate into the livelihood projects run by WFP cooperating partners.
“WFP plans to expand the e-voucher component of the programme to other cities and towns where possible," said WFP Country Director Felix Bamezon.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Help from Germany (HfG) and ADRA Zimbabwe are the cooperating partners whilst Redan Mobile Transaction (RMT) is the technical partner providing database support.
His is a story that stays with one for a long time. At 24, he is grossly underweight for his age and resembles a boy barely out of his teens. Jairos Chihwa, of Overspill in Epworth, a low income sprawling township 8km south west of the capital Harare, has been HIV positive since birth and it is all too easy to see that he has seen the ebb and flow of life and death in the suburbs.