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Finding the right balance

THE SUNDAY TIMES

Malawi, January 28, 2018

By Cliff Kawanga

At the height of hunger crisis few years ago, a lot of people cried for support.
Despite a lot of cassava or sweet potatoes in their household, some of them still lined up to receive free maize that the government was distributing. In a year when maize had failed, the farmers indeed had cassava and sweet potatoes as options. It is not quite surprising that in Malawi, food is nsima and those who claimed to have no food actually meant they had no maize from which fl would be made.
The many interventions in Malawi – which have lessened the burden of HIV and Aids – are founded on the availability and uptake of life-prolonging drugs.
An important aspect of such interventions is nutrition which, according to Dream Programme, should be embraced by all the stakeholders in the health sector as well as traditional leaders and the communities.

Dream Programme’s Country Coordinator Roberto Lunghi said nutrition is a key component in addressing the challenges in the health sector.
“This is where we should start from. We need to impart this knowledge about nutrition and we believe every stakeholder will play a role moving forward,” said Lunghi on the sidelines of nutrition training organised by Dream Programme in Blantyre last week. The training attracted participants from Dream Programme centres across the country and district health facilities.
Dream’s National Nutritional Coordinator Dyna Tembo said there is need to look at the nutrition side in the course of implementing other activities.
“Eating well is key to maintaining strength, energy and a healthy immune system. In addition, because HIV can lead to immune suppression, food safety and proper hygiene are concerns when it comes to preventing infections. This is the reason we gathered here to share the emerging issues based on the evidence from the communities in which we work,” Tembo said.
She emphasised that although focussing on the right food quantities is very important, food safety is crucial.

“You cannot talk about nutrition while ignoring hygiene. We urge our clients to follow the few basic safety rules when preparing and eating meals,” Tembo said.
She said the knowledge the participants acquired is key in meeting some of the targets set.
“Expert clients play a very important role because they are in direct communication with the patients. They follow up on patients and visit their homes when they miss appointments.
“Most importantly, the expert clients are involved in homecare. For patients who have problems with drug adherence or have poor nutrition conditions, the expert clients go to their homes, spend time with them to learn how they prepare their food, to see the hygienic conditions in the homes and then teach them on the correct ways of food preparation,” Tembo said.
One of the participants was Dowa’s Assistant District Nutrition Coordinator Precious Mlotha who said patients’ nutritional needs are assessed before meeting the doctors. “What we are doing in Dowa is quite remarkable. Regardless of the type of disease one is suffering from, we believe assessing the nutritional needs will go a long way in promoting healthy living in the communities,” he said.
He said that people might have a lot to eat but there is knowledge gap which they want to fill.

“We have learnt a lot and if we work together, we will soon count the benefi Everyone should own the initiative. In the past, the communities were at the receiving end but now they are actively involved,” he said adding that addressing nutritional needs is not the responsibility of the hospitals alone.
Another coordinator from Mangochi’s Kapire Dream Centre Alexander Mbewe said every food is important but there is need to consume the right quantities.
“Food helps the body to function properly. It is an important aspect in HIV/Aids because it protects the clients from HIV/Aids complications or opportunistic diseases,” he said. He said it was encouraging that most people appreciate the importance of good nutrition. “Few years ago there was a misconception that some diseases like diabetes or hypertension were for the rich only. This is slowly changing because people now understand that everyone can suffer from these diseases and good nutrition has proved to promote healthy living,” he said.
At the time the Dream Programme started in Malawi, the focus was on Drug Resource Enhancement Against Aids and Malnutrition with the aim of pulling resources together and enhance the fi against HIV and Aids.
After years of feedback from clients and efforts by the Dream Programme to do more, it was suggested that the neglected diseases, including non- communicable diseases, would erode the gains made in HIV and Aids interventions.
Dream now bears a wider meaning, Disease Relief Through Excellent and Advanced Means (Dream 2.0). With Dream 2.0, there is more focus on obesity which leads to cardiovascular diseases.
“Over-nutrition is as important as under-nutrition which poses the great threat to an individual’s health yet it is usually overlooked. So the training also focused more on over-nutrition,” Tembo concluded.

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