January 4, 2012
Many poor HIV/AIDS patients in Kenya are struggling with food security issues that threaten their health, experts say. Annual inflation in Kenya is about 20 percent, and wages have not kept pace. Staple food prices in 2011 were almost twice their 2009 levels, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported.
Kenyan patients say antiretroviral therapy can cause nausea, fatigue, and diarrhea at first, especially if the pills are taken without food, said Kate Greenaway, a nutritionist with Catholic Relief Services. At a CRS clinic in the Mathare slum, some patients are delaying treatment, and about a quarter of the 1,555 patients on therapy are skipping doses, said Valerian Kamito, a clinic nurse.
"They say they cannot take them on an empty stomach," Kamito said. Before food prices rose, "it was very rare," he said.
The clinic gives 400 of its patients food so they can continue treatment, but most take the meals home to share with their families, says Kamito. The program's waiting list is long, and the financial crisis means there is no money to expand it. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria has no funding for new or expanded programs until 2014.
About 20 percent to 30 percent of HIV patients in developing countries will drop out in the first two years of treatment, said Nils Grede, deputy chief of the World Food Program's nutrition and HIV/AIDS unit.
"Barriers to continue the treatment ... are often related to poverty," Grede said. "You don't have the money to pay for the bus, you don't have enough food, so you spend your time on trying to make sure that your family eats."
"People adhere much better to drug regimens when there is food," Greenaway said. "But in poor families, that might mean mothers who want to stay strong have to decide whether to take something from their children's plates."