BOBO-DIOULASSO - "Sarah" is a 42-year-old widow and, until recently, provided for herself and her children by selling mangos at the local market in the town of Bobo-Dioulasso in southern Burkina Faso. In 2012, she fell ill and went to the hospital. There she learned that she was HIV positive. She prefers not to share her true name. “I cannot reveal my identity,” she said, “the stigma that surrounds people living with HIV is still too strong.”
By the time she learned that she was infected, Sarah had lost a lot of weight and had no energy; the rumours had already begun to spread, and people were avoiding her. Suspecting her illness, her clients stopped buying from her and her mango business suffered, leaving her without the means to sustain her family.
Among its many activities in Burkina Faso, WFP supports some 7,000 people recently diagnosed with HIV as well as 5,000 vulnerable AIDS orphans. Working with civil society organisations, WFP distributes maize, beans, a fortified corn soya blend and vegetable oil which provides a comprehensive and nutritious diet for the most vulnerable people affected by the HIV epidemic. Culinary workshops and nutrition classes are also provided to those who benefit from the programme.
“WFP provides me with the food I need for at least three meals a day. Finally I have peace of mind, knowing that I have the right nutrition to help fight the infection in my body”, said Sarah. “Also, my children don't fight over food any more, and it makes me happy to see them thrive and go to school.”
Untreated, HIV infection causes serious damage to the immune system and often leads to weight loss. Social stigma and rejection add to the difficult food situation and may lead to undernourishment. Some children of parents who die of AIDS are left in the care of relatives, who themselves have to compete for scarce food sources; many children end up on the streets.
The HIV epidemic in West Africa shows large variations, affecting especially marginalised groups of the society. Every year, close to 1.5 million persons living with HIV and AIDS orphans benefit from WFP nutrition programmes worldwide. For Sarah, the situation is now brighter; with the right medication and nutrition, she has regained her strength. Hopefully, with the effect of HIV-sensitive programmes, she might one day be able to take her fruits back to the market, and to support her family again.