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Day 2 in Ethiopia: Food by Prescription

December 12, 2012

This week Jennifer James is in Ethiopia to observe Save the Children’s work with health workers. Today she, along with three US-based pediatric and obstetric nurses, visited Bishoftu Hospital to see results of its Food by Prescription program.

At Bishoftu Hospital, we meet two HIV+ mothers who received assistance through a US-funded program called Food by Prescription. Quietly speaking through translation, one woman, Mary (whose name has been changed) wipes away tears as she recounts her experience with the program. Mary, a thin woman with sun-worn skin, was diagnosed with malnutrition along with her HIV positive status and was provided free Plumpy’Sup (the adult equivalent of children’s Plumpy’Nut) in order to increase her weight.

“I am able to maintain a normal life,” she said. “I am very grateful for the support.”

Nearly 19 years after AIDS was first diagnosed in Africa times have changed for the better.

Today at Bishoftu Hospital, one of Ethiopia’s zone hospitals serving 1.2 million people and located about an hour-long ride south of Addis Ababa, we also meet Dr. Dereji Melka the hospital’s medical director and Dr. Abdulaziz Ali, the deputy chief over its Food by Prescription program. The Food by Prescription program, a USAID program with Save the Children as the primary implementing partner, provides nutritional aid to adults who are HIV+ and to children with severe acute malnutrition. At Bishoftu 1000 patients are currently registered in the Food by Prescription, 400 of them children.

It is not surprising that the hospital logs roughly 154,000 visits a year with 4,000 annual admissions. When we drive up we  see a steady stream of people patiently climb the steep paved street to Bishoftu hospital where many are already sitting in the warm morning air waiting their turn to be seen. By the time most are referred to any hospital in Ethiopia their illness is more acute than those who can be treated by frontline health workers. People looked more in need of health services and care than those you might see at a health post or local health center.

As Dr. Melka tells us about Bishoftu hospital he becomes noticeably pleased when he mentions that within two months another 85 beds will be added to the 102 already on the premises. A government health facility, Bishoftu hospital provides the vast majority of its services free of charge to the public including maternal health and delivery services, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis care, as well as care for those who are malnourished.

Along with Mary, we meet Sarah (whose name has also been changed) whose husband is also HIV+ and received Plumpy’Sup. Through the Food by Prescription program Sarah witnessed a dramatic improvement in her health, weight, and CD4 count.

“It really mattered,” she told us.

When those like Mary and Sarah are able to properly maintain their weight, they become known as graduates of the Food by Prescription program and can then become volunteer peer educators like the woman we met who proudly wore a long white lab coat with, “USAID Preventive Care Package for HIV/AIDS” labeled in blue on the pocket.

Through Mary and Sarah’s stories we can see that US-funded health programs do change lives. It is evident when they tell you from their experience and you can see the proof right in front of your eyes.

You can learn more about frontline health workers around the world and how vital they are to communities at Save the Children’s web site Every Beat Matters.

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