World Aids Day: How WFP is partnering to assist people living with HIV in Namibia
Food assistance and partnership help people overcome the most testing times
By Nomhle Kangootui
Memory Nchihindo, a mother of three, has been living with HIV for the past ten years.
“I was in a very dark place when I was first diagnosed and thought my life was over,” she says. “I was stressed and confused because I didn’t understand what HIV was back then. I was discriminated against, alienated and stigmatized.”
Family and friends’ “negative talk” had left Memory feeling like a failure — it drove her into a deep depression and made her want to give up on life, she tells me.
It’s a typical winter’s morning when I visit her, with a team from the World Food Programme (WFP), in the village of Sauyemwa, northern Namibia’s Zambezi region — WFP has received a generous contribution from USAID/PEPFAR Namibia to provide food and nutrition support to more than 100,000 people on antiretroviral treatment, in the eight regions of the country worst hit by years of consecutive drought and the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS.
Memory describes sleepless nights as she worried about being unemployed and living with HIV.
“It was a mixture of a lot of things,” she says. “There was no food at home because I didn’t work. I could not ask anyone for help because we were already being discriminated by peers and neighbours. So, this forced me to stop taking my medication. It was bad.”
However, Memory says the main reason she stopped taking her medication was lack of food.
“When you take your ARVs [antiretroviral drugs] without food, you feel very sick at first,” she explains.” I used to tell myself that this medication is not here to cure us, but to kill us. That is how terrible I felt when I took my medication on an empty stomach.”
She adds that with her husband working and living in the next village, the only support she’s had has been her children. That was the case until she was introduced to Rose Mazambani, a volunteer for a WFP partner Catholic AIDS Action in Zambezi, who encouraged and motivated her.
“I never thought I would be here today to tell my story — [it’s] thanks to Rose, who told us about food parcels being distributed by WFP,” says Memory. “The food I received literally saved my life. I could have been dead by now,” she adds with a faint smile.
According to a WHO HIV technical report, adults living with HIV have 10 to 30 percent higher energy requirements than a healthy adult without the virus.
WFP’s Country Director for Namibia, George Fedha, says WFP global HIV policy has two main objectives: to improve treatment outcomes and to prevent the adoption of negative coping behaviours through food and nutrition support.
By providing nutrition and/or food support, WFP has been implementing the United States’ Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)-funded programme which focuses on food insecure people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
“Although there has been a decline in the number of people newly infected with HIV and of AIDS-related deaths, HIV remains a serious concern with a prevalence in adults of over 10 percent,” says Fedha.
The thought of dying and leaving her three children orphaned scared Elizabeth Mazambani, a neighbour of Memory, who has been living with HIV for 12 years.
“The journey was not easy as you see me now,” says Elizabeth, who thought she was “gone”.
“I used to weigh only 50 kg, now I am picking up. These food parcels we are getting are helping us a lot. My only plea is that they must not stop this programme. The food saved our lives. We are alive, and that is all that matters.”
Hanging onto life
Annah Silengano’s smile hides the hardships she also has endured living with HIV/AIDS for the past 15 years. For months, Annah, a single mother of three from Kapako Village in Zambezi region, was ill because she had not taken her medication.
“I was hanging on to life because of my family and grandchildren. I asked myself what would happen to them if I died,” she says. “But the days when I was bedridden were so bad that I developed sores and was very depressed. I thank the Catholic AIDS Action’s volunteers for talking me through the time I suffered the most. Every time I saw or talked to them, I would get the courage to fight another day.”
She says that the WFP food rations saved her life, and that she is a stronger person today because of them.
At a clinic in Tsandi district of Omusati Region, the WFP team meets Mina Amos, who says she’s proud of how far she’s come, living with HIV.
She explains her efforts to avoid contracting COVID-19, the latest threat to people’s health.
“At first it was not easy living with HIV, but after I understood the virus, it became part of me,” says Mina. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, she was one of the people who benefited from 10,000 hygiene packs donated by UNAIDS to the Ministry of Health, to be distributed to 14 regions in Namibia.
UNAIDS Country Director for Namibia, Dr Alti Zwandor, describes a rapid needs assessment in April 2020, which found that 81 percent of respondents did not have enough COVID-19 personal and household protective equipment.
Women play a crucial role across all the pillars of food security, availability, access and utilization, he says. “[They] are generally responsible for food selection, preparation, the care and feeding of children.”