Women living with
HIV/AIDS in Malawi have formed a united front to ensure they get the nutritious
foods they need to maintain their health. The Coalition of Women Living with
HIV/AIDS is encouraging its members to grow different types of crops and rear a
variety of farm animals.
In Malawi, women
represent over half of HIV-positive adults. A study has found that a quarter of
all adults are malnourished and 75 percent of the malnourished are
HIV-positive. The study also says women of child-bearing age and children under
five often don’t get enough nutrition. That’s attributed to some government
policies and traditional practices that deny women the right to own farm
resources for food production.
AIDS activists say
the lack of iron, Vitamin A and other nutrients has greatly compromised the
health of women who are living with the virus.
UNAIDS says poor
nutrition can hasten the progress of AIDS-related illnesses and make it
difficult for patients to adhere to the strict regime of anti-retrovirals used
to fight the disease. It is against this
background that HIV-positive women in the northern district of Rumphi have come
Memory Chirwa is the
district’s food nutrition officer, “We decided to form
the coalition after recognizing the challenges HIV-positive women were facing,
more especially in accessing food. So the coalition is helping them meet some
of basic needs for their health.”
Chirwa says the
coalition was formed with the support of ActionAid International-Malawi. She
says the women are engaged in development activities like farming, “We teach the women that they should eat
nutritious foods so we therefore encourage them to grow various crops, like
vegetables and maize. Some of the women are now keeping goats and chicken
things that have changed their lives.”
She says with enough
funding, NGOs will train women to make soap -- a way to raise money to buy
foods that they cannot produce on their own.
sensitization meetings held by this and other AIDS groups are part of an effort
to empower women to demand their rights.
She says the meetings
have helped them, despite what she calls the government’s failure to ensure that
subsidized seeds and fertilizers are distributed to women.
“They were refusing
to give us the coupons because we were called dead people," she said.
But the government says
it will soon start distributing free foods for those infected.
Mary Shaw is the
principal secretary in the Office of President and Cabinet responsible for HIV
“We have developed a
nutrition policy," she explains, "whose main goal is actually providing adequate nutrition for
all Malawians. It is also in line with the provision of the constitution with
is has provided for adequate nutrition for Malawians.”
The country’s blueprint
for development, the Malawi Growth Development Strategy, also provides for prevention
and management of nutrition disorders and HIV/AIDS.
The government has so far put one million
Malawians on free ARV treatment – up from about 4,000 in 2004.