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Innovative WFP electronic voucher programme in Zimbabwe brings relief to many living with HIV

HARARE, 30 April 2012 (UNAIDS) - Loveness and her three children, Robert, Susan and Julia, share a room at the back of a garage in Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo. All of them are living with HIV and Loveness struggles to make ends meet and to provide the family with enough food.  In the past she would often go hungry herself to ensure that her children could eat a meal, often just three spoonfuls of plain porridge each.


However, Loveness and her family are looking towards a brighter future with the help of the World Food Programme (WFP). The UN body is using an innovative intervention involving electronic vouchers to provide nutritional support to chronically ill, food insecure households, many of whom are living with HIV, in Harare and Bulawayo. 


An estimated 14.3% of adults, some 1.2 million people, are living with the virus in Zimbabwe and there are around 150 000 children living with HIV.

Challenging malnutrition


Under the programme implemented by WFP through cooperating NGOs and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, clients visiting local clinics and hospitals found to be malnourished are referred to WFP food and voucher distribution points in their vicinity where they are given SuperCereal. This is a highly nutritious fortified blend of maize meal, soy protein and micronutrients. (Malnutrition is gauged by body mass index in adults and upper arm circumference measurement in children).


They also receive an electronic voucher to buy pre-determined food, such as oil and beans, at selected supermarkets. The e-voucher's value depends on family size and when presented with a voucher, the shop assistant contacts an electronic database to verify the ration for a month’s supply.


The cash vouchers are an alternative to in-kind food assistance and WFP uses them to tackle hunger where food is available in the market place but where most people cannot afford to buy it.

A holistic approach


For those living with HIV, such as Loveness and her family, the WFP’s nutritional support forms part of a holistic approach. One important element of the programme is to encourage beneficiaries to have a medical check up once a month at a clinic or hospital in their area. The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare works closely with the WFP and provides free antiretroviral therapy (ART) when necessary. Loveness’ children are all on such medication.


Food assistance not only increases the effectiveness of ART but also helps ensure greater adherence to treatment regimens. Good nutrition is essential in protecting people living with HIV and, according to WFP, the virus, malnutrition and food insecurity are inextricably linked. When people living with HIV are malnourished the risk of death increases significantly. Although people living with HIV need more calories and nutrients than people living without the virus, they often have lower appetites and are less able to absorb nutrients.

Expanding the programme


The voucher scheme supports around 8 000 clients and their families. WFP Country Director Felix Bamezon is pleased with the success of the scheme in Harare and Bulawayo and wants others areas to reap the benefits: “WFP plans to expand the e-voucher component of the programme to other cities and towns where possible."


According to Loveness, it has made a real difference, “The food assistance helps me because the children get enough at each meal and the little money I’ve been spending on food I can now spend on school fees.” 


WFP is the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. It feeds more than 90 million people in over 70 countries every year. In 2010, WFP supported 2.5 million beneficiaries in nearly 50 countries through its HIV and Tuberculosis (TB) programmes. This included food and nutritional support to some 500,000 people living with HIV as part of their antiretroviral therapy or TB treatment.


Source: UNAIDS