By Mutinta Chiseko
LUSAKA – Life was never easy in the Kafue district of southern Zambia, but Mary Mweetwa, 32, said the realities of poverty and hunger never weighed so heavily as the day in March 2009 when she tested positive for the HIV virus.
A working mother of three, Mary recalls the feeling of weakness and frequent bouts of illness that led her to the hospital for testing. She was fortunate enough to be placed on Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) and prescribed to take a battery of drugs with side-effects of their own.
Too weak to work and with money running scarce, the Mweetwas’ food budget began to suffer.
Rather than deprive her children, Mary ate less herself. “I was weak and dizzy all the time. And after I took my medication, my heart would start to beat very fast and I’d have to lie down.”
But of the worst of Mary’s problems were yet to come, when she discovered a few months later that she was pregnant.
Stories like Mary’s are common in Zambia, where the HIV epidemic has spread to 14 percent of the adult population and 16 percent of women, according to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
Cited by UNAIDS as the “most serious threat to Zambia’s development,” the HIV virus has taken a massive toll on the society, decimating the workforce and creating a generation of AIDS orphans with little or no means to care for themselves.
Until recently, Mary’s own children seemed destined to join them, along with the child in her womb.
Since then, Mary has been enrolled on a WFP food assistance plan targeting HIV-positive mothers. As a beneficiary of the Sustainable Programme for Hunger Solutions (SPLASH), she now receives a monthly ration of cornmeal, vegetable oil and beans that’s sufficient to provide her and family with three meals a day.
She says the food has given her the strength to keep up with her drug regimen, look after her kids and even do odd jobs to make a little money. “I thought I was done for, but now I’m feeling much better and even gained weight.”
When Mary started on the programme in January, she weighed just over 45 kg (90 lbs). In just six months, she gained 14 kg (30 lbs), much of it in her swelling midsection. Now eight months pregnant, she’s looking forward to meeting her new baby boy and watching him grow up.
Get the facts:
Find out more about the importance of nutrition to the fight against HIV/AIDS by downloading these fact sheets:
- Good nutrition and anti-retroviral therapy
- Integration of food and nutrition in HIV treatment programmes
- HIV, Tuberculosis (TB) and Nutrition
- Getting food to HIV patients