Living with HIV in Rural Communities | Part I The Diet Factor

HIV in Rural Communities

Living with HIV in Rural Communities | According to the 2017 Sentinel Report, HIV prevalence ranged from 0.2% in Afram Plains (rural) to 5.2 in Obuasi (urban) site. In Koforidua it was 2.8%, while in the Eastern Region, it was 2. 1%

This obviously means that, prevalence was low in rural communities in Ghana for the year 2017.

However, the rural community is one that require close monitoring because of the lifestyle of indigenous people.

This curiosity is what drove me to find out what it would be like to live with HIV in a rural setting.

I set off from Koforidua on a rainy Saturday to find out more on exactly what it was like to live with HIV in a rural setting.

My destination was Mangoase, and exact location was to land in the homes of people living with HIV in this rural community.

What greeted me was the freshness of the air.

Martha Asiedu is the midwife of the CHPS compound in Mangoase, and this was the woman who led me to the people living with HIV. I met her attending to clients at her CHPS compound upon arrival before we began our “rounds”

HIV in Rural Communities

My conversations rather reveled some interesting happenings.

The Virus that causes AIDS, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can be weakened by the Antiretroviral that is given to People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and can be so suppressed that one could live a normal life as though they weren’t having any such condition.

Before setting off to the village, I spent some time with Gifty Torkornu, an Ambassador of Hope who has been speaking to the Ghanaian populace for years now.

According to Gifty, showing me the light blue pills in a plastic pack, “just take a look at this, it is just one pill, and it is just like those who take BP medicines, it is just that, when you take it, you also have to eat right, our care givers teach us how to eat well and how to live right. If you do as they say, you will be fine, but if you don’t then, my brother, you will not even feel good in your body after taking the pill”

Living with HIV in Rural Communities| Mangoase Township

Living with HIV in Rural Communities | What caregivers say

To properly understand what exactly happens when People Living with HIV don’t have a nutritious diet, I spoke to Mercy (Not her real name).

She took time to educate me, “people living with HIV have their immunity compromised, meaning they turn to fall sick easily. Immunity is the fighting system for our body, it helps our body to fight against infections and against diseases. They turn to attack anything that comes into our bodies. When they are not able to attack, that is when you fall sick and go to the hospital. But when you are infected with HIV, your immune system is greatly compromised”

Shen went with what seemed to me as a lecture, “This immune system I am talking about is mainly made up of proteins, and they are cells, they work best when there are other things attached to them, and those other things are gotten from the food we eat. So we encourage people living HIV to eat a well-balanced diet so they can have other things”

Apart from “boosting their immune system by eating well, they also look healthy”

According to Mercy, when your immune system is not even compromised and you are not eating well, you won’t look healthy, so how much more a person living with HIV, whose immune system has been compromised.

She further warned, “when you are put on the antiretroviral drugs, there are certain things you are not supposed to do, like taking alcohol, when you take alcohol, it reduces the potency and efficacy of the drug, and you will not have the full benefit of being the drugs”

Lastly, she cautioned, “having a good diet, is not about having food in excess, if I am in say, Mangoase, and I have a ball of kenkey, I need a little fish, some leaves, and “abedru” with some oil, I have a balanced diet.

Living with HIV in Rural Communities | Mangoase Township

HIV in Rural Communities

With this at the back of my mind, I eager to know what the rural person living with the virus would also say. Gifty has been living with HIV for close to 16 years now.

Martha Asiedu, the midwife was ever ready to help, even though it was a Saturday, and drizzling, she was busy at the CHPS Compound attending to her clients when I arrived at the Mangoase CHPS compound. And it wasn’t difficult for her to get me one PLHIV

Living with HIV in Rural Communities | THE CASE OF ESI

Esi (not her real name) has been living with HIV for some years now.

She didn’t look too good in her clothes, but her facial expression was that of hope.

She smiled almost at every stage of our conversation.

Esi was frank with me, she would not disclose to her husband that she was living with the virus for fear of being divorced. Because of this, she cannot make a demand to be taken care of nutritionally beyond the “normal”

Esi’s situation is a microcosm of the rural folk in many such communities across the Eastern Region and Ghana at large.

Her story was corroborated by Martha, whom I spoke to again after talking to Esi.

Martha didn’t miss words. According to her, because of the nature of the drugs, one needs to be on a healthy and balanced diet to really benefit from the ARTs. This for her has become a major obstacle as some of the clients could not afford meals all the time.

What this meant was that some of the People Living with HIV miss some dosage and this could be disastrous to the health of the client.

Living with HIV in Rural Communities | Mangoase Township

HIV in Rural Communities

As to how this could be overcome, a stern-looking Martha was simply silent, and after some seconds said “I don’t know” but was quick to add, because of the ethics of this work too, I can’t do anything about it if they themselves don’t want to disclose”

This was a major issue in the community, especially among women.

HIV prevalence in the Eastern Region has seen a steady decline over the past ten years.

If the decline is to continue, in the light of the Agenda 90-90-90, this was a major hurdle to overcome.

The policy guiding the work of caregivers required that the caregiver could not disclose the status of an infected person to his/her partner.

This is however worrying and probably deserves a second look as it is beginning to look like the only way out of saving discordant couples.

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