Doctors say regular, nutritious meals are vital to the success of anti-retroviral drugs that treat HIV/AIDs. But in Kenya, many people with AIDs cannot afford nutritious food, so the drug treatments are less effective. Now, Kenya's Moi University and Indiana University in the United States have launched a program to give "nutrition prescriptions" to HIV-positive patients who lack access to good food. As Cathy Majtenyi reports, the "prescriptions" are coming from farms run by the program.
Fanice Komen-Towett fills out a prescription for one of her HIV-positive patients at the USAID-funded project. The project is called AMPATH, or Academic Model for the Prevention and Treatment of HIV/AIDS.
There are no pills on this prescription. Instead, it's a list of vegetables, fruits and other foods that HIV-positive patients must eat to be healthy.
Most of the patients here are on anti-retroviral or ARV therapy.
But Komen-Towett, manager of AMPATH's nutrition services, says ARVs are not enough.
You can do ARVs or you can provide ARVs to the patient,” Komen-Towett said. “But if they do not have anything to eat, or they do not know how to utilize the food that they have, then they will not recover well."
Allan Kanja Kinyanjui is a patient who does not have enough to eat. He has four children. He and his HIV-positive wife are too weak to work.
He fills his food prescriptions at an AMPATH distribution center.
He says the prescriptions are making a huge difference.
"I feel better, I feel stronger,” Kinyanjui said. “Today when I was weighed, the doctor told me that I have gained weight."
Ten percent of AMPATH's 70,000 patients are classified, like Kinyanjui, as "food insecure."
They lack the money and other resources to make regular nutritious meals.
Experts say ARV treatments are ineffective without proper nutrition. It boosts the immune system and provides energy.
Housekeeper and cook Rose Cherono remembers what it was like to be on ARVs without good food.
“You are dizzy, you are not strong,” Cherono said. “In fact you cannot do a lot because it is like your body is weak without food."
To ensure that vulnerable patients maintain good nutrition, AMPATH distributes fresh food at 17 sites within 30 kilometers of the western Kenyan town of Eldoret.
The produce comes from five farms that AMPATH runs in the area.
The crops include spinach, onions, and cow peas. Workers harvest them every day.
Abraham Boit manages the farms. He explains why his organization is growing its own vegetables rather than buying them in the market.
"We tried to buy food in the farmers' market, and then we realized that (in) one time of the year you get only one type of food, one type of vegetable is available in the market. We wanted a spectrum of vegetables which can supply all the types of vitamins which are required by a human being," Boit said.
Boit says AMPATH hopes to expand its program so more patients and families can live healthy lives.