In 2016, Phiona’s weight dropped dramatically to just 52kg (115lbs). Her t-cell (or CD4 cell) count, the marker of how well a person’s immune system is functioning, dropped too. A healthy t-cell count can range from 500 to 1500; in a person living with HIV, 500 is considered pretty good. At a t-cell count of 200, a person is at risk of serious illness. Phiona’s t-cell count was 320. With her worsening health, Phiona lost her usual energy and strength, directly impacting her ability to farm, her main economic activity and of course her only access to food. Phiona’s baseline nutrition hadn’t been adequate, which impacted her health and, perversely, her ability to get food, capturing her in a cycle of worsening nutrition.
In southwestern Uganda, World Renew partners with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, and one of our projects trains farmers in the growing and consumption of amaranth. Amaranth’s nutritional properties are quite remarkable. Sometimes classified as a grain, sometimes as a “pseudocereal,” with lots of green leaves as well as its buds (the “cereal” part), it is higher in minerals, like calcium, iron, phosphorus, and carotenoids, than most vegetables and has 28 grams of protein per cup (compare that to 13 grams in a cup of rice). A recent study published in the Journal of AIDS and HIV research showed increased nutrient intake, improved t-cell count, and reduction of illness in HIV patients who ate amaranth.
In 2017, Phiona attended PAG trainings on how to plant and eat amaranth. She was given amaranth seeds and promptly planted them in her garden. She has since harvested it and is a fan. “I eat green amaranth as a well as the grain,” she says. “I like amaranth when first popped and later ground on the the local stone to get flour. I mix a portion of that flour in the food which I eat regularly or in other flours, like maize and millet, for porridge and bread. It is delicious for me!”
Being involved in this project has been a turning point in Phiona’s life. She has opened up about her HIV status and gave permission to project staff to share her testimony. “When I began to eat amaranth,” she says, beaming with happiness, “my energy was restored and my life turned around. I now weigh 85kg, my energy has increased, and my t-cell count is 730. Eating amaranth changed my story!”
World Renew Uganda