Food Shortages Pose Obstacles to HIV Treatment in Mozambique
Although antiretroviral medications are provided at no cost in Mozambique and access to the drugs is "relatively easy," large numbers of HIV-positive Mozambicans are dropping out of treatment programs because of a lack of food, Medecins Sans Frontieres said recently, IRIN/Plus News reports.
According to IRIN/Plus News, antiretrovirals should be taken with regular meals to allow the body to combat opportunistic infections associated with HIV/AIDS; however, some HIV-positive people lose their jobs when their health declines, which makes it difficult to afford food and continue treatment. "It's hard to know the specific reasons why people abandon treatment, but there are lots of patients with low weight and nutrition problems," Clarice Nheleti, psychologist and supervisor at MSF's psychosocial unit, said.
MSF has responded to these nutrition problems by establishing a food support program in Mozambique's capital of Maputo for HIV-positive patients who have unstable economic circumstances. Because the organization is unable to assist all people in need, MSF focuses on people who are "visibly weak, those who come from families with no possessions and those who are too feeble to work," Nheleti said. MSF provides support for six months, which is generally long enough for patients to regain their strength and return to work, IRIN/Plus News reports.
In Mozambique, 16% of the population of 21 million people is HIV-positive, and more than 300,000 people experience severe food insecurity. According to Mozambique's Department of Health, of the 88,000 adults and 6,000 children taking antiretroviral drugs by the end of 2007, only 9.7% were receiving food aid. "Talking about nutrition in Mozambique is extremely complex, because the question of lack of food does not only affect HIV-positive patients," Amos Sibambo -- an advocate from the National Network of Associations of People Living with HIV/AIDS, or Rensida -- said. Sibambo emphasized the need for the government and civil society to understand the importance of nutrition for people living with HIV and to take action to address these issues. Rensida plans to raise awareness of these topics on World Food Day, scheduled for Oct. 16, by organizing lectures by nutritionists and presentations on specific diets for people living with HIV (IRIN/Plus News, 8/11).