A home-based care programme for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWAs) initiated in 10 Southern African countries by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has put some of the bed-ridden recipients of food aid back on their feet.
"We are naturally delighted by the results. For example, in Zambia we used to lose 35 clients a month, but now the number has reduced to five because of better nutrition," the Southern Africa regional HIV/AIDS coordinator for IFRC, Bongani Mundeta, told PlusNews.
Since the five-year initiative was launched by the IFRC in October 2002, the number of families being reached had increased from 8,000 to more than 97,000.
"We are assisting about 68,000 orphans and vulnerable children who need psycho social counselling because they have been traumatised by the death of their parents. We also assist in paying for their education and providing shelter and clothes," she said. The initiative was also assisting 29,546 PLWAs.
The programme, initially funded by the Netherlands and Swedish governments, has transformed the IFRC's traditional role of providing emergency relief to focusing more on the long-term impact of HIV/AIDS on households. It has also aimed to scale up advocacy and heighten HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns in communities. Some 4,000 caregivers have been trained.
"We have found that better nutrition and adequate food is a key element, and significantly boosts the immune systems of PLWAs. Loss of lives has been reduced markedly because of the food aid," said Mundeta.
According to Ben Mountfield, IFRC head of delegation in Zimbabwe, since January 2003 about 22,500 mt of food aid, provided by the World Food Programme, the European Commission Humanitarian Office and other donors, had been distributed in Zimbabwe.
The German, Finish and British governments have indicated their willingness to provide more funds for the initiative.
"Clearly, we worry about creating a dependency syndrome among beneficiaries, and we have sought to enable them break out of this syndrome by providing agricultural inputs to see whether PLWAs and child-headed families can fend for themselves," said Mountfield. Some beneficiaries had managed to produce reasonable harvests. "We have found it is 12 times cheaper than providing food, and it helps to break down the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS."
IFRC is working with nutritionists at the University of Zimbabwe to come up with an ideal PLWA food basket.
More than 28 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV/AIDS - an estimated two-thirds of the world's infected people. The Southern African region has the highest percentage of people living with the virus.
Although the IFRC initiative has been well supported by food aid from international partners and the WFP, Mundeta fears supplies may become inadequate in view of the increasing numbers of people in need of assistance, unless other donors offer more help.
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