Nearly one quarter of the children in the developing world are underweight and one third are experiencing stunted growth (UNICEF report). Many of these children have a family member, or are themselves, afflicted with HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS has a detrimental impact on household food security and nutrition in impoverished rural South African communities. Household food security is defined as the ability of the household to provide adequate food to meet the dietary needs of its members so that they can lead a healthy and active life. In HIV/AIDS affected households, socio economic problems start as soon as the first adult becomes sick. This results in increased spending for health care, decreased ability to carry out work and the productive capacity of the household is reduced to mainly elders and children. Access to nutritious food is difficult as the demand for care of affected soars and becomes increasingly difficult to preserve health. Many retroviral and HIV/AIDS drugs don’t work if patients aren’t getting enough vitamins and nutrients in their diets or accumulating enough body fat. Medication is often not enough. Nutrition and income plays a vital role in a “well-rounded” treatment plan. Those infected need enough nutrition in order to better absorb medication.
Heifer International South Africa (Heifer) community projects has helped families cope with the increasing acknowledgment about the importance of nutrition when it comes to treating HIV/AIDS. These projects help families and communities to produce food and income for themselves using agricultural interventions, particularly livestock and crops. Income is essential to securing an adequate food supply. Their daily nutritional needs are high and need less labour intensive yet yield sizable jobs. In partnership with Partners in Health, Heifer works with communities to improve nutrition and overall net income to HIV/AIDS patients. Heifer provides poor families with training and support to start farming on their small plots of land. Each family is given a cow, some goats, a pig or a flock of chickens. The animals provide extra needed protein in diets. With the animal manure, families grow fruit and vegetables.
The gift of dairy goats are easier to keep and care for than cows and are an economical and practical choice to feed and nourish HIV/AIDS patients. Goat milk has the necessary nutrition to meet the demands of those living with HIV/AIDS. The milk is a good source of selenium, an essential trace element, can often mean life or death if selenium stores are depleted. Selenium is important for the proper functioning of the immune system. Selenium deficiency has been linked to viral diseases, including HIV/AIDS. When farmers are often too sick to grow crops, chickens are usually easy to maintain. Because women are often the primary caregivers for family members with HIV/AIDS, they need easy, low-cost sources of both food and income. Unlike many crops, raising free-range chickens can require few outside inputs and very little maintenance from farmers. Chickens can forage for insects and eat kitchen scraps, instead of expensive grains. They provide not only meat and eggs for household use and income, but also manure for fertilizer. A nutritionally adequate diet plays an important role in immune function. Deficiencies of protein and essential nutrients have a particular detrimental effect on the ability of the body to fight HIV/AIDS and TB. Eggs are a naturally nutrient-dense food, which means they have a high proportion of nutrients to energy. One large egg has 315kJ and provides the highest quality protein (6g/egg) and 13 essential vitamins and minerals, which makes an egg a valuable contributor to a nutritious diet for HIV/AIDs patients (Nulaid).
Heifer’s model allows families to earn a living, grow healthy food and stay home to care for HIV positive family members. Fighting HIV/AIDS is more than medication, it is about helping families as to find ways to cope with the challenges faced and keep loved ones happy and active for as long as possible.