BURUNDI: Food cuts for HIV-positive people worry NGOs

Photo: Jocelyn Sambira/IRIN
Burundi is facing serious food shortages
BUJUMBURA, 14 November 2006 (PlusNews) - AIDS advocacy groups in Burundi are worried that a decision by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to cut special feeding programmes next year for HIV-positive people will harm their long-term health.

Drought, crop disease, endemic poverty and more than a decade of instability mean Burundi suffers from serious food insecurity. WFP is expected to feed an estimated 874,000 Burundians by the end of 2006, including particularly vulnerable groups such as internally displaced persons, school children and HIV-positive people.

However, the agency's new policy means that feeding programmes for people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS will come to an end in December 2006 and will not be renewed.

"We have previously considered people infected and affected by HIV as a separate category of beneficiaries," Guillaume Foliot, programme manager for WFP in Burundi, told IRIN/PlusNews. "But we found that we were diverting an important tranche of our monthly food distribution to HIV patients, when the fact of being HIV positive in itself does not make one vulnerable - many people can carry on working and can purchase food, whereas people in northern Burundi [who are worst-affected by food insecurity] sometimes have literally nothing to eat."

Burundi is struggling with a 500,000-tonne food deficit, but WFP is able to provide just 70,000 tonnes in aid. "People infected and affected by HIV/AIDS have been taking up between 10 and 15 percent of our monthly distributions," Foliot said.

Local AIDS organisations dependent on WFP assistance are worried that the end of the programme could have disastrous consequences for already vulnerable people.

"We have been feeding orphans, child-headed households and our most desperate patients with WFP food, but with the programme coming to an end, we do not know what is going to happen to them," said Jeanne Gapiya Niyonzima, a leading AIDS advocate and president of the National Association to Support HIV-positive People. Gapiya's organisation has 1,700 people on life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, many of whom are currently receiving food aid from WFP.

Foliot said WFP would continue to provide food to people starting on ARVs for the first nine months of treatment, which Gapiya - herself HIV-positive for several years - said was insufficient.

"I have been on the drugs for years and I still need a very good diet to feel okay," she said. "We are negotiating with WFP to see if they can continue feeding the patients who really are in urgent need."

The Burundi chapter of the Society for Women Against AIDS in Africa (SWAA), which runs a programme for prisoners, said WFP's decision would also affect the health of the country's HIV-positive inmates.

"Conditions in prison are really difficult; the inmates do not get a balanced diet, which is especially dangerous for HIV-positive people," said Baselisse Ndayisaba, coordinator of SWAA Burundi.

Foliot said WFP's decision was made after consultations with the Burundian Ministry of Health and UNAIDS to allow the agency to focus on the "the worst of the worst". Apart from the programme for HIV-positive people, programmes for elderly people in institutions, street children and hospitals have also been cut.

"There are so many thousands of people in Burundi who desperately need food, and those HIV-positive people who are indeed vulnerable should still qualify for food aid under one of our other vulnerable categories," he added.


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