COVID-19, food and ARVs in Uganda

by Jacquelyne Alesi

It was reported recently that in Uganda, some people living with HIV are abandoning their treatment because of COVID-19. Food insecurity is today emerging as a key barrier to ARV initiation and adherence, and as a contributor to ARV treatment interruptions. This puts people in danger of repeated illness due to opportunistic infections and the development of drug-resistance.

The lockdown that was imposed in the country to prevent COVID-19 transmission and mortality has meant that some people living with HIV do not have enough food to be able to take their ARVs. Poor nutrition weakens the body’s defenses against the virus, hastens progress from HIV to AIDS, and makes it difficult to take ARVs. Sufficient food can help reduce some side-effects of ARVs and promote adherence to drug regimens. In summary, the chain of effects: you are hungry, and if you are hungry your body becomes weaker, and when your body becomes weaker when you take the drugs it weakens you further. Poor nutrition can affect the absorption of the drugs in the body or leave the body less able to tolerate the medication. Food, therefore, is a very important factor for people living with HIV.

I started The Jacquelyne Ssozi Foundation as a person living with HIV myself. Against this background, the Foundation will be implementing a project called the Mirembe Project to help reach some people living with HIV with information on how to adhere to their treatment in this COVID-19 times, and:

  • Provide some food support to 200 HIV-positive most vulnerable people identified by the facilities.
  • Provide masks to (200) HIV-positive women.
  • Provide a motorbike for a peer to continue providing ARVs to most vulnerable people during this lockdown.
  • Provide translated IEC COVID-19 materials to 1,000 clients.

This project will be health facility-based and I will be working with four facilities: Kansaganti (Wakiso district) Health Center IV, Kalagala (Luweero district) Health Centre 3, Family Hope Centre (Kampala district) and Namugongo Fund for Special Children Clinic (Wakiso district). These facilities have well set systems that will help me to do my project, bearing in mind the WHO guidelines on COVID-19.

If you would like to support the Mirembe Project, contact Jacquelyne. You can find her on Twitter @JacquelyneAlesi

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