BISHOFTU -- Thirty-two year-old Almaz has not had an easy life. She had her first child at 14, and when she learned that she was HIV positive eight years ago, her husband did not accept it and refused to be tested himself. As a result Almaz did not take any antiretroviral therapy for several years.
“At some point my husband got so sick and later died, so I had to think about how to take care of the family. I went to Bishoftu hospital and got counselling there and started receiving medicines and food”, explained Almaz.
Through the PEPFAR/USAID-funded WFP programme, patients receive food assistance by means of vouchers that they can redeem in shops while they are following their antiretroviral treatment (ART). As with any drug, antiretrovirals are more effective when people are adequately nourished. Food support can play an important role in ensuring that people who lack food benefit fully from their treatment, giving them a brighter future. Malnourished people living with HIV on ART will receive nutritional support for a maximum of six months. Once they have nutritionally recovered and stabilized, the beneficiaries are discharged from the activity.
The second part of the programme consists of small sessions to learn business skills and generating income activities.
“I was waiting for a hopeless life when I was sick, I was waiting for death, I survived thanks to this but it also relieved stress from my daily life especially for helping my children, I can pay for their school fees and expenses,” she said while explaining the benefits of the programme.
One of the things the participants are taught is to go into their community to identify affordable businesses and whether there is a market for them.
Every day Ayelech sells 80 pieces of injera at 3 Ethiopian birr per piece, which makes her around US$12 per day. Every month she is able to save about US$7, of which she gives US$2 to a savings group set up with other members of the programme.
She has also diversified her business, selling goats during the festive season and doing sewing, using a machine that she bought with her savings.
"The health office and WFP changed the direction of my life"
Today more than 190,000 people are enrolled in the WFP HIV/AIDS assistance programme in eighty towns across Ethiopia. Not only has the food support contributed to improved health but it has also helped school attendance for children and reduced the risk of transmission of the virus from mothers to babies. Food assistance for pregnant women is conditional to a checkup at the clinic every quarter, and delivery must either be in a health facility or at home assisted by a skilled birth attendant. As a result, 100 percent of the babies delivered in Bishoftu health facilities who were born to mothers enrolled for food assistance were HIV negative. Food support also given to orphaned and vulnerable children is conditional to their school attendance.
“The health office and WFP changed the direction of my life. I now live with hope with my four children; sometimes I even forget about my status!” said Almaz, laughing, as her children look at her with admiration.
Today about 700,000 people are living with HIV in Ethiopia. Thanks to the government policy that declared HIV an emergency in 1998 and successive critical strategies for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support , Ethiopia is now one of the sub-Saharan countries demonstrating more than a 25 percent decline in new HIV infections.