Hunger forces people with HIV off medication

People living with HIV wait to be attended to at Ogur Health Centre IV, Lira District, in 2014. There  are about 50,000 people living with HIV/Aids in Lira District alone. PHOTO | BILL OKETCH 

A 40-year-old man living with HIV/Aids in Otuke District has died due to hunger-related complications, his wife Caroline Okello has confirmed.

The man, who had been on ARVs for more than 15 years, had abandoned the life-prolonging treatment due to the biting famine being experienced in Lango Sub-region. 

The widow said her husband collapsed and died at home as arrangements were being made to take him to hospital on July 3, 2022.

She also confirmed that her husband had skipped medication because of shortage of food at their home at Atat Village, Omwonyolee Parish, Ogor Sub-county in Otuke District.

“I have always been advising him not to stop taking his medication even if on an empty stomach for the sake of his life, but because of stress, sometimes he could lose his temper and become very hostile,” the widow said.

This family is not alone. Many people living with HIV/Aids in the Lango Sub-region are no longer adhering to medication because of  hunger.

Ms Jenifer Ongom of Wigweng cell, Barogole ward in Lira City, said she only takes her ARVs on days when she can afford two meals.

“I cannot take my medication when I have not eaten anything because it makes me very weak and raises my blood pressure. I know I am living at risk but there is nothing I can do when I have no money for buying food,” Ms Ongom, who is a casual worker, said.

Dr Isaac Orech, the in-charge of Lira Health Sub-district, said a person who is not eating properly develops malnutrition. 

“Malnutrition is a very big challenge to people on ARV therapy. Therefore, if they are not consistently taking their medication, their viral load will increase and their body immunity will weaken and put them at risk of developing opportunistic diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria and eventually they will die,” Dr Orec explained.     

Mr Fred Omara Mwoch, the chairperson of people living with HIV/Aids in Lango,  appealed to the government to consider giving food aid to his members. Mr Omara said there are about 50,000 people living with HIV/Aids in Lira District alone.  Most parts of Lango Sub-region last received rainfall at the end of April.

He said in the past, USAID through the National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda used to give them vegetable seed for planting during hard times but the organisation told him last week that such intervention was phased out.

The chairperson for people living with HIV/Aids in Alebtong, Mr Wilson Okar, said they are receiving many complaints from their members who say they are unable to take their drugs on empty stomachs

Dr Tony Odung, the Alebtong District Health Officer (DHO), said people living with HIV are supposed to eat a healthy diet to reduce the side effects of the drugs.

John Mukili, the chairperson of persons living with HIV/Aids in Otuke District, encouraged the patients to continue taking their drugs even without food to maintain good health.

Background

The United Nations (UN) has raised a red flag on the rise in global hunger as a new report shows the world is moving backwards in efforts to eliminate hunger and malnutrition. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the world (SOFI) report released on July 6, 2022 indicates that global hunger numbers rose to as many as 828 million in 2021. The figure shows an increase of about 46 million since 2020.

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