NAZRET, Ethiopia - In a shop ran by the local consumers’ association in Nazret, Alem buys rice, peas, vegetables, wheat flour and cooking oil. A few months ago, she traveled to a large WFP food distribution to queue for her monthly ration. Today she just heads to a local shop not far from her house with a WFP voucher to collect it.
Alem is part of the WFP urban HIV/AIDS programme aimed at improving the nutritional status and quality of life of food-insecure people living with HIV and AIDS.
“Using a voucher is like buying from the shop with cash for me. Nobody points at us,” says Alem, who came with her two young children.
“The HIV/AIDS programme was implemented in urban areas where markets function well, so we decided to switch to vouchers in several cities. The food that people get from vouchers is produced locally, and the people can get it closer to their homes through local shops” explains Abdou Dieng, WFP country director in Ethiopia.
Using vouchers as a new tool supports local food production and gives people more control over their food choices, but in some areas food assistance is still needed because of low market capacity. Before the vouchers were introduced, the HIV/AIDS programme had already had a significant impact for people living with HIV/AIDS, through direct food assistance.
One of the goals of the programme is to support people seeking treatment at health clinics, including those taking lifesaving Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART). Monthly food rations or vouchers serve as an incentive for people to regularly take their medications, and improved nutritional status helps the drugs work better.
In 2011, 52% of adults on ARTs had an improved nutritional status after six months of food assistance. School enrolment of orphans and vulnerable children living in households receiving food assistance increased from 80 percent in 2006 to 99 percent in 2011.
“When my husband died I was left with nothing, and I had to look after his two kids from his previous marriage as well as my 5-year old daughter,” explains Tsehay, from Hawassa in Southern Ethiopia.”
“After a year I started feeling unhealthy; I gave up hope, simply counting my days,” she added.
Tsehay heard about WFP when she started taking ART. After a check-up, she was enrolled in the programme and started receiving a monthly ration of vegetable oil and a fortified blend of maize and soy meal. After six months, the nurse said that her health was improving and she was able to graduate from food assistance and begin a business skills training programme.
“They gave me 4,000 birr [about US$220] to start up my own business following the training. Now I grow vegetables and sell them to big hotels in town,” she says.
The WFP HIV/AIDS programme was established in 2003 in three major Ethiopian cities: Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa and Nazret. It has since grown to include 23 additional towns. Once the nutritional status of people stabilizes, they are linked to income-generating activities through local and international NGOs.
By Stephanie Savariaud, with additional reporting from Meherete-Selassie Menbere