KATAKWI, Uganda, March 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -
S even-year-old Esther Agutti weighs 7 kilos - a third of the
weight of the average child her age.
She has been in hospital in Katakwi, eastern Uganda, for
three days. She was painfully thin when she was admitted and had
diarrhoea and vomiting, said Loyce Akelo, a senior doctor.
Esther's family, who are farmers, have been hit hard by the
drought that has scorched East Africa. They have had to ration
the little food they have to survive - but this is particularly
dangerous for Esther, who, like her parents, is HIV-positive.
Esther is receiving anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment - which
slows the development of HIV and holds off its progression into
AIDS. But crucial to the proper functioning of these drugs is
good nutrition, doctors say.
"The hospital has received 232 children, more than half of
all the children on HIV medication in the district. They lack
food and have been malnourished since the start of this year,"
Akelo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Katakwi.
"It is important that someone with HIV first takes a meal
before taking on drugs."
Poor nutrition can affect the absorption of the drugs in the
body or leave the body less able to tolerate the medication.
Akelo said the hospital is giving Esther meals to help her
take her drugs but the arrangement is just temporary and she
will soon be sent home.
Esther's father, Moses Agutti, said the family was hoping to
receive government food handouts but they weren't yet being
distributed in his village.
"We have been to the county offices and officials there have
promised us that there will be food relief coming though they
are not sure of when," he said.
"I am struggling to get some food for the family from the
garden. It's not enough because of the drought."
In December, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni announced he
was redirecting funds budgeted for roads to provide relief food
to areas affected by drought and hunger.
A poor rainy season has led to extensive drought across East
Africa, destroying crops and killing livestock. Uganda's
neighbour Kenya has already declared a national disaster, with
the Red Cross estimating 2.7 million people are in need of food
aid as a result of lack of rains.
In Uganda, the worst affected districts are in the north and
east, where district authorities have warned the drought may
disrupt ARV treatment as HIV-positive children and their elder
relatives are hungry and unable to take the drugs.
Walter Elakas, a district head in Katakwi, said parents of
HIV-positive children are struggling to give their children a
meal before midday.
David Tumwesigye, an official at the Ministry of Gender
Labour and Social Development, said in a news conference last
month 11.7 million Ugandan children are on the verge of dying of
hunger and pneumonia due to lack of food and proper housing:
that means about six in 10 children are starving.
"The situation has been worsened by the dry spell that has
hit the country hard and if action is not taken many children
are likely to die or have permanent effects on their health," he
An estimated 1.5 million people live with HIV/AIDS in
Uganda, of whom nearly 100,000 are children under 15, according
The effects of drought are also felt by adults living with
In Acholi village on the outskirts of Moroto town in
northern Uganda, Teddy Adwin, a 30-year-old mother who was
HIV-positive, was still being mourned a week after her death.
Her sister, Mary Akol, who also lives with HIV, said Teddy
was one of four in their family who had died during the drought.
"I feel dizzy after taking the drugs without having a good
meal," Akol said. "The medicine we take becomes toxic to the
body whenever we miss a meal."
Mariko Ingodi, an HIV-positive army veteran in Acholi, said
doctors had warned him that he would die if he continued taking
ARV drugs without food.
"Many of us have stopped taking the drugs as we can go three
days without eating; we have resorted to eating the leaves of
wild trees," he said.
(Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters
Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers
humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, resilience and
climate change. Visit news.trust.org)