Dominican Republic: WFP’s Work with HIV Vulnerable Population

I was part of a WFP mission visiting Batey Consuelo in La Romana province which is located in the East of the country conducting focus groups and imparting nutrition and healthy cooking workshops with the Food Security and Nutrition of Women Living with HIV in the Dominican Republic Project (PROSAN). The PROSAN-by its acronym in Spanish- targeted 3 provinces: Santo Domingo, San Pedro Macoris and La Romana that have a high incidence of the epidemic according to statistics from the Ministry of Health.

My colleagues and I discussed during the planning process how best to protect participants identities. We sought to minimize risks of them being discovered and stigmatized. We followed the “no harm” rule by taking extra steps to protect their confidentiality in our contact with them. Participants were not registered in any sign-up sheet during the workshops, focus groups were not recorded --only written notes were taken and only emerging and general topics discussed--, a consent form was provided on what the project entailed and how they would not be identified in any way or put at risk. Participants were reached through community organizations that work with HIV population. The workshops were not “labeled” for HIV+ people. Instead they were promoted as "nutrition and healthy eating habits" workshops.

Once in the workshop, participants talked about their experiences. One woman said that her relatives ostracized her when they found out her condition and wouldn’t share a meal while another said she hadn’t shared her condition with her family or neighbors out of fear. Another woman said that she didn’t care who knew but that she was going to do her best for her family. They all were so thankful that we showed them how to choose healthy foods for their families in spite of their limited resources and HIV+ condition, and the opportunity to be treated as people and not labeled as victims or living a death sentence.

This project put me and my colleagues in contact with these women that are day to day struggling to put food on the table. However, what impacted me most was the hopefulness that I saw in their faces and the desire to live. I felt proud to work in an organization like WFP that is working to help women like them put food security and nutrition actions on the minds of government authorities and within social programmes in the country so that everyone has an equal opportunity.  

Background: In the 1930’s La Romana province was booming with economic growth brought by the sugarcane industry. Once the industry fell and most of the sugarcane plantations and mills closed in the 1960's these communities were left bereft and became subsistence farmers and/or farms laborers. La Romana residents’ main source of income now is informal labor, farming and tourism, this last trade encompassing prostitution.