The small 10m by 15m garden behind Agnes Oroma's house in northern Uganda's Gulu district is much more than a hobby garden; according to HIV-positive Oroma, it is one of the main reasons she is in good health.
She grows indigenous vegetables and tomatoes to supplement her daily diet of beans, maize meal and silver fish; Oroma also proudly shows off a sisal sack in which she grows onions.
"Do not ignore that little space behind your house, it can do a lot to feed you cheaply and lessen your financial burden that would enable you spend on other essentials to keep you healthy on your daily ARV treatment," 31-year-old Oroma told IRIN/PlusNews.
In the face of rising global fuel prices and a prolonged dry spell, Ugandans are dealing with steep increases in the price of food that have sparked protests in many parts of the country. According to a recent report by the World Bank, the price of maize in Uganda has risen by 114 percent over the past year.
Oroma and other HIV-positive patients in Gulu town are becoming more self-reliant in an effort to maintain a healthy diet and stay on their antiretroviral medication. Oroma's group of backyard farmers has grown to 30 in the past few months.
"Food was my biggest worry for my treatment; I had become weaker because my body didn't have the strength to withstand the potency of the ARV drugs," said Maurine Kilama. "Since I started growing these vegetables, producing more food, I feel a lot of improvement and I have the strength to do other things.
"I now take my medication without worries because I know the food I grow can keep me going for another day," she added.
Kilama said by September 2010, her weight had dipped to 52kg from her usual 58kg; since she started her garden, she has regained 4kg.
"The onions and vegetables I harvested from my small plot in March fetched me 100,000 shillings [$41.60]," she said. "I planted them between November and January; growing them is easy provided you water them early morning and evening."
|Since I started growing these vegetables, producing more food, I feel a lot of improvement and I have the strength to do other things|
The money helped to buy food and pay school fees.
However, for many HIV-positive people, already weakened by lack of food, working in a garden is not an option. At Gulu Hospital, 1,792 HIV-positive patients received emergency therapeutic food support in 2010. Since the beginning of 2011, more than 300 have registered.
"Nutrition is affecting HIV care; when we started assessing nutrition we got to know that the patients were undergoing difficult times," said Francesca Achieng, a nutritionist at the hospital. "[Without adequate food] a patient cannot withstand the strength of ARV drugs because of its side-effects, the drugs are toxic, they can destroy your body while they fight to reduce multiplication of the virus in your body."
Patients are assessed and initially given rations of therapeutic food, collected along with their ARVs.
However, many HIV-positive people find themselves back at the emergency feeding centre, unable to pay for costly food. A group of people living with HIV in Gulu has appealed to the government to set up nutritional support programmes to ensure they are able to continue with their ARV regimens.