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World TB Day: Treating Tuberculosis, One Meal at a Time

Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of tuberculosis infection in the world. Nutritional support is essential in enabling patients to take-up treatment and improving treatment success.

At the Herat Regional Hospital, Nafas Gul is sitting patiently outside of the tuberculosis (TB) treatment center, awaiting her dose of TB medication. The mother of five is tired, but says she feels much better now after having received treatment for six months.

“Before,” she says, “I couldn’t even walk.”

After swallowing her tablet in front of the doctor, Nafas joins the crowd of 20 other men and women who have lined up to receive their monthly food ration from WFP: 50kg of wheat, 8kg of split peas, 3.7 liters of fortified vegetable oil, and half a kilogram of iodised salt.

“My husband cannot work, and people won’t give him a job,” she says. “He is addicted to drugs. He doesn’t care about us.” She shrugs. “When I receive food, it’s a big resource for us. We are poor. We have no income.” Nafas, 30, has five sons. Her eldest two, 15 and 13 years old, both work as daily laborers to support the family.

Through the generous support of donors, WFP provides monthly food assistance to TB patients like Nafas who are undergoing the Directly Observed Treatment Short course (DOTS), as an incentive to continue and finish the 8-month-long treatment. The Regional Hospital in Herat, one of nearly 700 TB centers that WFP supports in Afghanistan in partnership with the Ministry of Public Health and World Health Organization (WHO), treats over 100 patients with tuberculosis through DOTS. In 2011, WFP reached approximately 22,000 TB patients with food assistance throughout Afghanistan. These family rations benefited over 140,000 people in the country.

Dr. Mohammad Asif Kabir, the Department of Public Health’s Regional TB Coordinator, agrees that the food assistance is a significant incentive for TB patients. “People do not come without the food,” he says simply.

“Because of the food and the treatments, I have to keep on coming,” says Nafas. “Now I can work. I don’t feel the best, but I’m ok. I have many children, and I have to take care of them.”