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 Wednesday 03 October 2007
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ZIMBABWE: People living with HIV/AIDS use new ways to handle hard times

Photo: IRIN
A balanced diet is critical to the health of people on ARVs
HARARE, 2 October 2007 (PlusNews) - Dire shortages of such essentials as electricity and water are forcing Zimbabweans living with HIV/AIDS to combat the country's hardships with new and novel approaches.

According to the Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey, 18.1 percent of the population of about 11.5 million are infected with HIV - the sixth highest prevalence in the world.

Once one of the most prosperous countries in the sub-Saharan region, Zimbabwe's economy is in freefall, with an inflation rate of more than 6,000 percent and international donor agencies predicting that by the end of the year a third of the population will require emergency food aid.

A serious shortage of foreign currency to import chemicals for treating water, and spare parts for maintaining plants and reticulation systems, combined with inadequate rainfall, has brought basic services in many areas to a halt.

In this environment, organisations like the AIDS Counselling Trust (ACT), established in 1988 to complement and assist government and international aid agencies initiatives to provide care, support and treatment for people affected and infected by HIV/AIDS, have developed innovative methods to counter the erratic supplies of water and electricity.

"Because of the high cost of electricity, erratic power supplies and the high cost of firewood, a large number of our clients living positively with HIV/AIDS were having problems accessing warm food, until recently," Peter Kamusiya, ACT's programme officer for Nutrition and Home Based Care, told IRIN/PlusNews.

The hay basket

The organisation, which works mainly with HIV-positive people living in the high-density suburbs of Mabvuku, Tafara, Glen Norah, Mbare, Kuwadzana and Highfields in the capital, Harare, stumbled across a solution at a local HIV/AIDS exhibition: a low-tech basket, insulated with hay, that can be used to cook and keep food warm for several hours.

"We borrowed the concept from the exhibition and we now reproduce the baskets for the benefit of our clients located in Harare and surrounding farms, and the hay basket has been received with ... [applause] by people living with HIV/AIDS."

The basket is made from local river reeds and then stuffed with hay, which is then further insulated with locally produced sacking. "It is very simple to use. For example, when cooking beans, they are soaked in water overnight and then cooked for one hour in a clay pot on a fireplace. The clay pot is then transferred into the hay basket, which is then closed to allow further cooking for another two hours before eating," he told IRIN/PlusNews.

Photo: IRIN
Peter Kamusiya displays the hay basket
Angeline Chiwetani, coordinator of the HIV/AIDS non-governmental organisation, the Youth in Development Trust, said the hay basket was an innovation to suit the times.

"In the face of regular power cuts and the resultant high costs of firewood, I quite naturally welcome such an innovation. People living with HIV/AIDS have to eat warm food in order to kill any bacteria which may find its way into the food," she said.

The need for such an energy-saving device was identified last year after a survey of ACT's clients, when it was found that people were no longer eating dried beans because they took too long to cook. "This forced us to move with speed, because beans is one of the highly nutritious foods which are cheap and available locally," Kamusiya said.

"The other advantage with the hay basket, other than the fact that it is made from locally available material, is that because the food is cooked in a sealed basket, no nutrients are allowed to escape." The organisation's clients are now supplied with the raw materials to make their own hay baskets.

Gardening innovations

Crippling water shortages, which have left some of Harare's suburbs without water for months, and bans on the use of hosepipes to water gardens in suburbs still supplied with water, have made it extremely difficult to grow vegetable and herb gardens, depriving people living with HIV/AIDS of vital nutrition and a source of alternative medicines to treat headaches and diarrhoea, or stimulate appetites.

"We are training our clients in water management skills for their nutrition gardens, such as mulching, in which they are urged to spread grass on their vegetable beds to prevent evaporation of moisture," Kamusiya said.

''We discourage the use of chemicals and pesticides in preference for natural methods, and we encourage the use of compost and manure, while inter-cropping ensures that insects cannot attack their plants''
"Another technique is the use of the 'Grow Bag', where a sack is filled with soil and compost, then perforated and vegetables grown on it. This ensures that there will be very little water lost after the bag is watered, while the high concentration of compost will ensure vegetables grow much faster," he said.

Clients are also encouraged to use water from washing and bathing for their gardens, and inter-cropping techniques, in which vegetables and herbs are planted alternately.

"We discourage the use of chemicals and pesticides in preference for natural methods, and we encourage the use of compost and manure, while inter-cropping ensures that insects cannot attack their plants, as they can only do so when there is one variety of crops planted on a vegetable bed," Kamusiya said.

Should pests attack their gardens, clients are encouraged to use a combination of ground garlic and chillies mixed with water, which is then sprayed on the garden as a natural pesticide.


Theme(s): (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews)


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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.