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Food Insecurity Emerging as a Key Barrier to ARV Adherence Among People Living with HIV/AIDS

KAMPALA, Uganda– As part of the COVID-19 response, Uganda started relief food distribution to about 1.5 million urban poor who are affected by the lockdown, taking into account the elderly, sickly, lactating mothers, and pregnant women. To ensure social distance, the relief food was to be distributed house to house and door to door with no lining and no semblance of crowding.

Uganda Network on Law Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET) applauds the government’s efforts to provide food to Ugandans during this lockdown period. However, more still needs to be done to ensure that food distribution, in addition to ease of access to HIV-related services, is carried out optimally, especially to areas and households of people living with HIV/AIDS.

According to medical experts, a poor feeding routine and diet is particularly dangerous to those who are on ARVs because poor nutrition affects the absorption of the drugs in the body. The side effects include headaches, abdominal pain, and dizziness. A low and weakened immunity can be exacerbated if medication is taken on an empty stomach. Good nutrition is therefore recommended as it is crucial to the proper functioning of these drugs.

Unfortunately, due to the lockdown, a number of people living with HIV have been forced off ARVs due to inadequate food, and HIV activists fear that unless more food becomes available, they will soon be dealing with drug resistance and death. This is because ARV drugs are taken on the understanding of food being available, a guiding principle which is inculcated into them right from the start. Therefore, in the absence of food, many have stopped taking their ARVs which risks their lives, since the source of livelihood for the majority of this group of people (women, young girls and young people) has been affected due to the government lockdown restrictions.

“Most of these women neither have stable income nor permanent jobs with a monthly salary. Whatever they earn on a daily basis is used to feed their families. Now, the lockdown makes it even more difficult to earn money and buy food to feed their families,” said Rhona Babweetera, Head Gender and VAWG prevention.

“Food insecurity compromises the prevention of COVID-19 because it is unlikely that an HIV-positive person is going to remain indoors, they will find ways of moving out to look for whatever support they can get, and in the process of not adhering to social distancing, they might contract the virus,” she added.

UGANET therefore calls upon the government to provide food to people living with HIV, and to persons with TB, as many individuals with such and other health conditions that need continued monitoring within this period cannot take their medicines without a proper nutritious regimen.

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