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Hunger Forcing HIV Patients in Otuke to Abandon ARVs

Most of the affected persons are the elderly, children and Persons living with HIV and AIDS, many of whom have now abandoned the regimen that is used to slow the rate at which HIV multiplies in the body. The treatment which prevents HIV from replicating and boosts the immunity of patients has to be taken with food, according to medical experts.
15 year old Immaculate on her bed.

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People living with HIV in Otuke District are discontinuing the uptake of Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARVs) due to hunger. The area has suffered a prolonged drought that has resulted in food insecurity which has left thousands of people starving.

Most of the affected persons are the elderly, children and Persons living with HIV and AIDS, many of whom have now abandoned the regimen that is used to slow the rate at which HIV multiplies in the body. The treatment which prevents HIV from replicating and boosts the immunity of patients has to be taken with food, according to medical experts.

Medical records show that people on anti-retroviral treatment report increased adverse effects if they are unable to eat and they are always encouraged to ensure that they have an adequate diet while on ARVs. But this is no longer possible for families in Otuke that are in dire need of food, and spending days and nights without a meal.

Christine Abeja, a resident of Okwongo Town Council who has been on HIV treatment for more than 20 years says she has stopped taking the medicine because she becomes weak whenever she takes medicine without food, yet she needs the energy to look for food for the children she is taking care of.

Luo//Cue in; “Mwonyo yat ARV…

Cue out… atye alole kede.”//

Medics say that if a person with HIV skips doses of the drugs, the virus can start copying itself in their body again. As a result, this could cause HIV to become resistant to the drugs and if this happens, the drug will no longer work, and that person will be left with fewer options to treat their HIV.

Consy Akello, another resident is currently struggling to take care of her 15-year-old granddaughter who is battling a double ailment of HIV and hydrocephalus; a condition in which fluid accumulates in the brain. Atim cannot get up from bed, let alone eat on her own and her grandmother is afraid of losing her.

Luo//Cue in; “Peko atini tye …

Cue out… we agwok oitinoni.”//

A Medical Officer in charge of the ART clinic at one of the health centres in Otuke district who spoke on condition of anonymity says that the challenge brought by hunger is bigger because many of her clients are not taking their treatment because the medicine needs proper meals with good nutritional value.

“I have seen people living with HIV who have left taking ARVs and when you see the statistics from the district, the viral load across health facilities is increasing among people affected by HIV because people are abandoning their ARVs. This is making a reversal on the gains that the country had might regarding the fight against HIV and Aids.”

Caroline Okello, a resident of Ogor sub-county confirms that her husband who passed on late last month had been on ARVs for more than 15 years, but recently abandoned the life-prolonging treatment due to the acute famine being experienced in the district.

She says, “every time my husband swallowed his medication without food, he became weaker until he stopped completely and passed on weeks later.  These drugs make you weak and reduce your strength,” Okello said. 

Fred Omara Mwoch, the chairman of People Living with HIV/Aids in Lango says the current famine coupled with the high prices of food is affecting his members.

“There are so many people (over 50,000) living with the virus in Lira District alone. The hunger is mostly affecting my members who are living in rural areas because they depend on rain-fed agriculture but their crops have dried up because of the drought,” he said.

So far over five people are confirmed to have died from hunger in the district.