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WFP e-voucher programme helps out many

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.

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.