HIV+ Mother Finds Way Out Of Hunger Trap

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Until recently, Neri, an HIV+ mother of three, often had to choose between feeding her children and feeding herself. It was an impossible choice and she might have died if she hadn't started receiving food as part of her treatment. She's now healther, better able to care for her family and was able to celebrate Mother’s Day.

EL PROGRESO—When Neri, 28, started coming to the Integral Care Center (CAI) in 2009, she weighed 37 kg (82 lbs). “It was a very difficult time for me,” says the young mother of three, who tested HIV+ four years ago. “Up until now, I worked for a lady making tortillas who only paid me about 60 lempiras (US $3.00) per day.”

Even in El Progreso, Honduras, a poor but growing city in the Central American country, Neri wasn’t earning enough to provide for her family. With so little money to buy food, she often had to decide between feeding her children and feeding herself.

“I know that if I didn’t eat, the antiretroviral drugs wouldn’t work. But I couldn’t to hear my children cry because they were hungry,” said Neri. The worst part about it, she added, was knowing that if she didn’t eat, she would die and that her children would be orphaned.

It wasn’t until she came to CAI, where her treatment included rations of nutritious food provided by WFP, that she found a way out.

A tough spot

A single mother in one of the poorest countries in Central America, life was hard enough for Neri before she started showing symptoms of HIV. She was working ten-hour days and making barely enough to survive, let alone raise three growing kids.

“I was getting weaker and weaker and sicker and sicker,” she said. “If things had gone on like that, I don’t think I’d still be here.”

Despite all of Neri’s sacrifices, her children were also showing signs of malnutrition. When they arrived at the CAI centre, her youngest—a two-year-old named Nelson—weighed in at just 8 kg (18 lb).

Since then, all of them have rebounded. Neri’s weight nearly doubled to a healthy 136 lbs and her children are back in the normal range. Because she was feeling better, Neri even had the strength to go find a better job. She now works in a restaurant that pays her more and gives her time off when she needs to come to the health centre.

A common problem

Hunger leads to dangerous health risks on its own, but when coupled with the HIV virus, becomes especially deadly. According to experts, patients who are underweight are six times more likely to die from the disease.

That’s because their bodies can’t absorb antiretroviral medication, which slows the virus, without the right nutrition. Together, hunger and HIV create a vicious cycle of lowering income and worsening health that are impossible to escape without help.