War, HIV/Aids and hunger: Tales from South Sudanese

What you need to know:

  • Appalling. More than four million people in the world’s youngest country have been left severely food insecure since December 2013.
  • Of these, people living with HIV/Aids are the most affected by the situation, writes Lilian Namagembe.

Under a scorching mid-day sun in March, Wulak Boi limps in company of his caretaker to the antiretroviral therapy (ART) ward before he drowsily plants himself at one of the seats near the entrance.
The 29-year-old soldier is visibly pale and underweight with red-dry lips. Boi, who can hardly speak, keeps sipping a red herbal liquid that his relative recommended to help him “gain blood”.
The scene is Juba Teaching Hospital, ART Center in South Sudan.
“He came yesterday and has taken a whole month without taking medication because being on the frontline, he could not get food [which is necessary] to take medicine,” his caretaker says, adding that the soldier had been flown from Abyei State – 630km from the capital of Juba – after his condition worsened.
Over four million people in the world’s youngest country have been left severely food insecure since December 2013 when a civil war broke out between president Salva Kiir and his vice president Riek Machar.
The food insecurity has mainly come as a result of high mortality rate of potential and established farmers and displacement of people who are always on the run. Like Boi, other displaced civilians in the country go through the same predicament as they struggle to take the daily drugs on an empty stomach, leading to poor adherence and faster death of HIV/Aids patients compared to those who have regular, nutritious meals.
Having lived with HIV since 2004, Ceaser Gideon Yugu’s experience of surviving on medication amid hunger is heartrending. He struggles to secure food to be able to take his prescribed medication of four tablets on a daily basis.
The 50-year-old says his struggle is even worsened by the fact that he has to take the drugs at different time intervals: two tablets in the morning and evening yet it is hard for him to have two meals.
“At times I am forced to take water [when] there is no food because I stopped working,” says the former security guard, who has since been laid off because of his poor health.
The patients say despite the constant supply of drugs, they find it had to travel several kilometres away from their homes on an empty stomach to collect the medicine supplied quarterly, which makes them to skip appointments with their doctors.
Yugu says he has on several occasions missed out on collecting his drugs from the health facility, which is over 6km away because he cannot raise transport fare.

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