Namibia: Emerging From the Shadows of HIV

Memory Nchihindo, a mother of three, has been living with HIV for the past 11 years.

"I was in a very dark place when I was first diagnosed. I thought my life was over," she says.

"I was stressed and confused, because I didn't understand what HIV was. I was discriminated against, alienated and stigmatised," she says.

The Namibian visited Nchihindo with a World Food Programme (WFP) team at the village of Sauyemwa, in the Zambezi region.

The WFP has received a generous contribution from the United States Agency for International Development (Usaid) and the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) Namibia to provide more than 100 000 people on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment with food and nutritional support.

Nchihindo says she used to have sleepless nights as she worried about being unemployed and living with HIV.

"There was no food at home, because I didn't work. This forced me to stop taking my medication. It was bad."

Nchihindo says the main reason she stopped taking her medication was a lack of food.

"When you take your ARVs without food, you feel very sick," she says.

Then she was introduced to Rose Mazambani, a volunteer at WFP partner Catholic AIDS Action in Zambezi, who encouraged and motivated her.

"I never thought I would be here today to tell my story, but Rose told us about food parcels being distributed by the WFP," Nchihindo says.

"The food I received literally saved my life," she says.

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) HIV technical report, adults living with HIV have 10% to 30% higher energy requirements than an adult without the virus.

WFP country director for Namibia George Fedha says the WFP's global HIV policy has two main objectives: to improve treatment outcomes and to prevent the adoption of negative coping behaviours through food and nutritional support.

"Although there has been a decline in the number of newly infected people with AIDS-related deaths, HIV remains of serious concern with a prevalence of over 10% in adults," Fedha says.

'HANGING ON TO LIFE'

The thought of dying and leaving her three children orphaned scared Elizabeth Mazambani, a neighbour of Nchihindo's, who has been living with HIV for 12 years.

"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," Mazambani says.

Annah Silengano has been living with HIV-AIDS for the past 15 years.

She says she was ill for a long time because she did not take 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.

"I thank the Catholic AIDS Action's volunteers for talking me through a time when I suffered the most. Every time I saw them or talked to them, I would get the courage to fight for another day."

Silengano says the WFP food rations saved her life.

At a clinic in the Tsandi district of the Omusati region, the WFP team meets Mina Amos, who says she's proud of how far she's come living with HIV.

She says she is making an effort to avoid contracting Covid-19.

"At first it was not easy living with HIV, but when I started understanding the virus, it became part of me," says Amos.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, Amos says she was one of the people who benefited from 10 000 hygiene packs which were donated to the Ministry of Health and Social Services by the United Nations Programme on HIV-AIDS (UNAIDS) which were distributed among all 14 regions of Namibia.

UNAIDS country director for Namibia Alti Zwandor says a rapid needs assessment in April 2020 found that 81% of respondents did not have sufficient personal and household protection against Covid-19.

Women play a crucial role in food security, availability, access and utilisation, he says.

"They are generally responsible for food selection, preparation, and the care and feeding of children."

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