The Coalition of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi has launched a program to bring HIV-positive women together to grow crops in an effort to improve their access to better nutrition and help maintain their health, VOA News reports. The coalition -- which is running the program in the northern district of Rumphi, Malawi -- also is encouraging members to rear a variety of farm animals. Formed with support from ActionAid International, the program engages women in development activities and teaches them to grow nutritious foods, according to the district's food nutrition officer, Memory Chirwa.
VOA News reports that women in Malawi account for more than half of the adult population living with HIV/AIDS, and a study found that 25% of adults in the country are malnourished. In addition, 75% of malnourished people are HIV-positive. The study also found that women of reproductive age and children younger than age five are not receiving adequate nutrition, which is attributed in part to some government policies that restrict women from owning farms for food production. HIV/AIDS advocates in the country point to a lack of vitamin A, iron and other important nutrients as a major cause for poor health among women living with HIV/AIDS. UNAIDS says that AIDS-related illnesses can progress more rapidly in patients who are malnourished and that poor nutrition can make it difficult for people to follow antiretroviral treatment.
Chirwa said that "after recognizing the challenges HIV-positive women were facing ... especially in accessing food," the coalition was formed to help women "meet some ... basic needs for their health." The group also intends, with funding from nongovernmental organizations, to teach women to make soap, which can be sold to buy food that the women are unable to produce themselves. Chirwa said that another part of the coalition's work will be to empower women to challenge discriminatory practices in the farming sector, especially in the distribution of coupons for government farming subsidies. Mary Shawa, the principal secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet for HIV and Nutrition, said, "We have developed the nutrition policy whose main goal is actually providing adequate nutrition for all Malawians." According to VOA News, the Malawi Growth Development Strategy also provides for the prevention and management of conditions such as malnutrition and HIV/AIDS (Masina, VOA News, 2/10).
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