16 June 2017

Uganda: HIV Patients Die From Hunger Complications

A lack of food over the last three months is forcing Persons Living with HIV/Aids (PLWHAs) in Gulu off their medication, resulting in some deaths due to hunger related complications.

Adequate food is important for people on anti-retroviral medication or any other medicine because a good diet helps patients handle the side-effects of drugs.

Hellen Lamunu, the vice chairperson of PLWHAs, under their umbrella organization, 'Ribbe Tek', told The Observer that more than one hundred patients under their care have stopped taking medication on empty stomachs.

"The situation was a bit okay during the season of mangoes because we could eat mangoes and take our medicine. Now that the fruits are over, many are abandoning medication," she said.

Lamunu said children living with the virus are the worst affected because their parents first do odd jobs to buy food.

"Children on ARVs are getting weaker and malnourished faster but there is nothing we can do," she said.

Lamunu said many patients have resorted to taking their tablets only once a day in the evening when they have something to eat. According to the organization's records, 160 households of PLWHAs in Gulu are in dire need of food aid due to the current famine and high food prices.

The Gulu center manager of The Aids Support Organisation (TASO), Bennet Kizito, said he has received complaints from their starving clients.

"Most of our clients are poor people who cannot afford two meals a day. Others skip a meal so that they have what to eat the following day. And this is not easy for someone on medication because ARVs [tablets] are very big and taking them requires some comfort [food] in the stomach," he said.

Kizito added that the center can only manage to give supplementary food to patients who are badly off and severely malnourished but not all their clients.

"Majority of PLWHA lack family and social support. A patient can be taken and abandoned at the hospital, where they survive on support from sympathetic patients," he said. "Sometimes when the hospital staff realize that some of them are our clients, they inform us and we provide food until they improve."

Commenting on the side effects of ARVs, Kizito said the drugs have been improved over the past decade and can be taken without food once a day. However, patients who have co-infections must eat before taking their drugs to fight off the side effects of the multiple drugs.

"On top of being HIV positive, many patients have multiple infections like TB, Hypertension, viral and bacterial infections. This means they have to take medicine twice or thrice a day," Kizito said. "Imagine if a patient is taking ARVs, Septrin, TB drugs, anti-retroviral drugs, antibiotics, painkillers on an empty stomach. The side-effects become too much to bear."

In recent years, hunger has afflicted many parts of the country due to changing weather conditions and erratic rains, which have affected crop yields.

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