Finding a way to survive in Zimbabwe

Publié: 17 décembre 2013 12:28 CET

By Hanna Butler, IFRC

“I’m finding it difficult to come up with a plan to survive,” says Tsikira Sipiliswe.

Tsikira is HIV positive and she lives in Gwanda, a district in southern Zimbabwe. Like many other areas of the country, people here are facing one of the worst periods of food insecurity in years. According to a recent Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee assessment, 2.2 million people will need food assistance from January to March next year.

People in Gwanda are among those most in need. Matebeleland South province, where Gwanda sits, has the highest prevalence of HIV in the country, at 21 per cent. One in five adults 15-49 is HIV positive. Gwanda itself has an HIV rate of 15 per cent.

“People living with HIV/AIDS become particularly vulnerable in times of food insecurity as treatment needs to be taken in conjunction with a good diet,”says Erin Law, International Federation of  Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) community health officer. “Taking the medication on an empty stomach results in nausea, so people often stop taking it because it makes them feel so sick.”

Like many Zimbabweans currently affected by food insecurity, Tsikira is beginning to reduce her meals to one per day. “I eat twice a day or once a day. I stop taking my medication when I run out of food and it is happening more lately. On the medication, if I haven’t eaten, I become dizzy, weak and I feel sick.”

From her home in rural Gwanda, Tsikira runs a small business selling clothes. She says she makes approximately 10 US dollars a week, on average, which is enough to support her, her daughter and grandchild.

But due to rising food prices and drought, business is slowing. She says she is lucky to sell something once every two weeks. “My business will not be viable at the moment. No one has money for clothes. I am really worried about this coming period.”

Tsikira knows the impact a lack of food and money has on her health. “I am concerned about my health as I stop taking the medication. I become open to opportunistic infections, and I have no money to get them treated or to even get to the clinic. Once, a few years ago, I went to the clinic when I was sick because I didn’t have enough food. But looking back, the situation now is much worse.”

Law says Tsikira’s situation is common for people living with HIV in food insecure regions. “It’s a dangerous and downhill slope. People living with HIV/AIDS rapidly become sicker and vulnerable to other conditions. As Tsikira says, they will stop going to the doctor as they can’t afford it. Food is the priority for whatever little income they have.”

The IFRC and the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society have launched an emergency appeal to support 10,500 of the most vulnerable people in Gwanda with immediate food assistance. The operation will target people like Tsikira living with HIV/AIDS, pregnant women, child-headed houses and the unemployed. The response will be implemented over seven months and will also support people with longer term activities, such as learning improved farming techniques, so they can better prepare and adapt to future disasters.