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HIV caregivers mull over food options for kids

 Street News Service 30 July 2019

With almost 23 million Kenyans struggling to put food on the table, President Mwai Kibaki declared that agriculture will be mainstreamed into the country’s overall growth and development vision. But how much will those affected by HIV benefit from this agricultural revolution? (747 Words) - By Jesse Masai

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 Children eat their lunch at the Baptist Children’s Centre. Photo: Jesse Masai

The results of a study on poverty levels released this month in London has most people in Nairobi worried, - it will feature in the 20th anniversary edition of the UNDP's Human Development Report, due out late in October.

According to Kenya's mass-circulating Sunday Nation, which first reported on the study, almost 23 million Kenyans live within the poverty bracket, and have immense difficulty putting food on the table.

"Our measures identifies the most vulnerable households and groups and enables us to understand exactly which deprivations afflict their lives," Oxford University's Dr. Sabin Alkire, one of the study's two lead researchers, was reported as saying.

On the same day that the London report was coming in, Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki had just led the government in declaring that agriculture would be mainstreamed into the country's overall growth and development vision, mainly by making production, marketing and processing economically viable.

He said: "We have stepped up measures to strengthen the agricultural sector. In this connection, we have been implementing the Strategy for Revitalizing Agriculture from 2003 to 2008. During this period, we increased investments in agriculture from a meagre 0.5 to 5.6 per cent of our national budget.

"During the same period, we achieved agricultural growth rate of 6.2 per cent, which is slightly above the African target. These gains were, however, interrupted by external factors; but I am pleased to note that in the last half of this year, the sector has regained and is now at 5 per cent."

Amidst all the food talking points, one man in Maili Saba, a dusty grassy knoll in Nairobi's Dandora - an informal settlement - is wondering if food security is assured enough to cater for children infected with HIV/Aids.

Mr. Tony Wenani manages Baptist Children's Center (BCC), a 20 years-old ministry of the Baptist Convention of Kenya in partnership with a variety of local and international organisations, seeking to meet the needs of 21 children in especially difficult circumstances, some of them with HIV/Aids.

"Some of these children have been left after their parents succumbed to Aids, while some are the result of broken homes or poverty stricken families….left to fend for themselves, such children become addicted to glue and other drugs, engage in petty theft and other behavior that significantly reduces the number and quality of their years," says Mr. Wenani.

The mushrooming population of Nairobi, HIV/Aids, the unhygienic conditions associated with informal settlements and the absence of affordable, basic health care, pose a great risk to the surrounding community of Maili Saba.

But Wenani is concerned that many of the drugs that are conventionally used to treat adults living with HIV/Aids are not available in an appropriate form, or approved for use in children.

"Those that are available are often unaffordable in the areas where they are most needed. The pediatric formulations that are available can be significantly more expensive than adult equivalents and therefore an expansion of the development of cheap, fixed-dose combinations for children is greatly needed," he says.

Faced with the need to access child-friendly ARVs, and surmount such hiccups associated with adult ARVS as the need for prolonged use and attendant stigma, Wenani - himself a HIV/Aids care specialist from Kenya's St. Paul's University - is teaming up with Dr. Davidson Mwangi, a Kenyan researcher on food-based supplements to ARVs, to advocate for Amaranth, a nutrition supplement to boost immune systems.

"Grain amaranth food cereal composition analysis compares well with infant cereal food of amaranth grain," argues Dr. Mwangi, a regular on the international HIV/Aids circuit, including the recent Vienna conference. Both Wenani and Mwangi argue that the relatively new crop is not only pest and drought resistant, but was in 2007 - at the Thika District Government Hospital - reported to have strengthened bones in HIV/Aids infants aged between 2 and 5 years, eradicated skin infections and constipation, boosted their immune systems and improved their appetites, in addition to limiting vomiting and diarrhea. Grain amaranth matures within two months, and gives a yield of up to 1,000 kilograms per acre.

The duo believes the crop could enhance the nation's response to HIV/Aids among children. However, they acknowledge the crop is not widely available and suffers from low visibility, high pricing, and susceptibility to interference by middle-men and unscrupulous processors. Food specialists have called for more research in the field to measure the grain's effectiveness in supplementing diets.

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