Panic as Locals Abandon HIV Drugs over Hunger


Arua: Panic has engulfed health experts in Arua following reports that hundreds of people enrolled on Anti retroviral therapy (ART) are abandoning the drugs over hunger.

Officials said the most affected people are women and children especially, those living in poverty stricken rural villages of Arua District, Northern Uganda.

Speaking to Red Pepper in an exclusive interview on Thursday, Dr. Paul Bishop Drileba, the Arua Deputy District Health Officer said in 2015/16 financial year, a total of 11, 666 were tested HIV positive in Arua
district of which 10, 607 were enrolled on ART.

                            Dr. Drileba (R) and Candiru (L) during the interview at Arua district headquarters on Thursday

Drileba went ahead to stress that about 2, 440 of the enrolled HIV clients abandoned the drugs for various reasons with many complaining of hunger, a move he said calls for an immediate intervention.

“I always skip my drugs when I have no food to eat because they are too strong and have a lot of side effects like headache when taken on empty stomach,” said Florence Namusisi, 39, a resident of Abiricenduku village, Aroi Sub County in Arua district.

Namusisi, a single mother of 4, who has taken ART drugs for the last 15 years said with the current food crisis in the country, prices have gone high for her to afford daily meals since she only depends on food from market.

                              Florence Namusisi while speaking to Red Pepper about her challenges

When contacted, Jack Kokole, the Coordinator of Arua district network of people living with HIV/AIDs asserted that many of his colleagues have stopped taking drugs due to the looming hunger.

Kokole said their research indicates that most people living with HIV in Arua eat only one meal in a day due to poverty.

Kokole fears that if the situation continues up to 2018, they are bound to lose many HIV clients mainly as a result of hunger which forces people to abandon their drugs.

He appealed to the government to quickly come to their rescue by lobbying donors to provide free food items such as posho, rice, sugar, cooking oil and beans for people on HIV drugs.

                          Kokole stresses a point during the interview with Red Pepper in his office on Thursday

It is for this reason therefore that Beatrice Candiru, the program officer of the National Council of women living with HIV/AIDs (NACWOLA) said they have now embarked on equipping HIV clients with business and farming skills so as to improve on their living conditions.

“We are encouraging people living with HIV to start farming on small scale by growing vegetables around their compounds and do some businesses which can avert hunger in their homes,” said Candiru.

Candiru said the problem of hunger among people on HIV drugs is real, adding that it has forced 134 clients from River Oli Health Center IV in Arua Municipality to abandon drugs while 80 also went missing from Adumi HCIV in Adumi Sub County last year.

According to Dr. Drileba, the current Arua district HIV prevalence rate stands at 4.9 percent.

(Writing by Andrew Cohen Amvesi , Editing by Serestino Tusingwire) 

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