‘HIV is no longer a death sentence for us’
How WFP nutrition support and village saving and loans schemes are changing lives of people living with HIV in Cameroon
By Marianne Tabi
“Our harvests from growing local produce — like cassava, groundnut and maize — enable us to feed well, send our children to school and live healthily,” says Mahamadou. The 41-year-old belongs to a group of people living with HIV in Cameroon’s Adamawa region. There are eight such groups in the town of Meiganga, each with 25 members — 80 percent of them are women.
“HIV is no longer a death sentence for us,” says Mahamadou. “We’ve got food and investments to face it,” he adds, referring to the nutrition support and village savings and loans scheme (VSLA) they have via assistance from the World Food Programme.
“We’ve developed different income-generating activities with the support kit we received,” says Mahamadou.
What unites group members along with their HIV status, he adds, is social and economic empowerment they receive — WFP supports people living with HIV through different steps. The first is recovery, through the nutrition support programme, to enable participants’ access to supplements such as corn soya blend to address malnutrition.
After six months, those considered as the most vulnerable and at risk of falling back into malnutrition are then enrolled into the VSLA scheme coordinated by WFP’s cooperating partner — ASAD (Association d ’Assistance au Développement) where they can benefit from revolving funds to create and run their own income-generating activities. The scheme equips people with resilience tools to avoid relapsing.
With a startup capital of $34 (XAF 20,000) for each person, participants say the scheme is making a difference in their lives. ASAD also works closely with government technical services that provide training on agriculture, livestock and small trade to improve the capacities of the groups and their members, making them more resilient.
Mariamou says that before her admission into the programme, she used to struggle to provide food to her family of eight. But through some basic training on how to operate small businesses, she has been able to develop her cassava business which now allows her and her entire household to earn enough to meet their food needs.
When Gayiya and her husband, both of whom are HIV-positive, started receiving nutritious food from WFP, they were better able to adhere to their treatment. Gayiya invests part of the capital from the scheme into agricultural activities and has managed to stabilize her irregular income. Now, more than a year later, Gayiya and her husband are strong enough to grow their own food and no longer rely on food assistance to survive.
Koulou, who also receives support from WFP, says the training enabled her to secure funds for healthcare, which she could not afford before.The scheme has also transformed the way people living with HIV access and receive medication.
“Now, the president of our group collects all hospital books for those in the first line of treatment and takes them to the hospital official who provides all our medications,” says Koulou.
This is a great step for all people living with HIV positive in Cameroon’s Adamawa region.
“Now, we no longer have to queue in lines for long hours just to get our medication. Also, the stigma that comes with being exposed during waiting hours has greatly reduced,” says Koulou.
Women who belong to the groups say before the start of the programme, they suffered discrimination from their communities and had difficulties supporting their families. But this has changed since they became self-reliant and maintained treatment. Most of these women have now become active decision makers within their families.
WFP’s nutrition support for people living with HIV in Cameroon is supported through funding by a donor partners including the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.