Uganda has often been celebrated as a model for Africa in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Strong government leadership, broad-based partnerships and effective public education campaigns all contributed to a decline in the number of people living with HIV and AIDS in the 1990s. In spite of efforts towards the fight of the epidemic, AIDs has continued to cause significant deaths in the country going by the figures reported by the Ministry of Health. A group of women in Mukono Municipality, central Uganda have developed an approach based on their experiences to improve livelihoods and the immunity of members living with HIV & AIDS by using locally grown mushrooms.
Gabula Attudde Women’s’ Group a Community Based Organization (CBO) started in 1994 targets informally employed women in peri urban/ rural areas of Mukono Municipality, central Uganda. In 1998, the group that has 72 members came up with an initiative of mobilizing the community towards income generating projects and involving people living with HIV/AIDS in a project that not only improved their economic status but their health status as well.
The group learnt how to set up mushrooms gardens to grow Oyster Mushrooms (a plastic bag with cotton seedlings, maize husks and mushroom spawn that is placed in a dark room before germination and then shifted a normal lighted room) as a lucrative enterprise. The project was supported by the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADs), a government body.
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Significance of Mushroom
Consumption for PLWHIV/AIDs
In addition to creating employment opportunities and increasing household incomes, mushrooms have been identified and recommended by doctors as a source of a nutrient supplement to children with measles and people living with HIV and AIDS, especially those with sores and skin rushes.
Mushrooms are immune stimulants and fight infections by initiating an immune response that results in higher levels of white blood cells, cytokines, and antibodies and complement proteins.
Alice Kalulu Nakibuuka, has nursed 13 years old Paul Kibirige, her grandchild, since 1995 when his parents died from HIV and AIDS complications. She is a member of the Gabula Atudde Women’s’ Group and strongly believes that mushrooms have boosted her grand child’s immune system. “Paul’s parents died in 1995 as a result of AIDs. The mother died when he was one and a half years old but after following good nutritional and care advice from doctors from Mulago Hospital, he has survived all this years,” notes Nakibuuka. She recollects that her grandson was in a bad condition after his mother’s death. She started using mushrooms and took Kibirige to the Acute Clinic of the AIDs Support Organization (TASO) in Mulago who also recommended and provided Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for him.
“My doctor at the Acute Clinic, Mulago Hospital advised me to eat mushrooms. My grandmother and I were advised that mushrooms help clean up intestinal anomalies and increase my CD4 count. I started using mushrooms in 2006,” says a healthy looking Paul Kibirige. He is a primary school leaver from Royal Heights Primary School in Mukono and is looking forward to joining secondary school this year.
Other Benefits from Mushrooms
Mushrooms are well known to be cultural delicacies for many tribes in Uganda and the world over. In some of the tribes like the Basoga and Buganda, mushrooms are treasured as an important ingredient during traditional ceremonies such as the initiation of twins two weeks after birth.
On the other hand, mushroom gardens can be used as organic manure for other crops. The gardens have valuable organic components including salts, iron and potassium which when absorbed for other crops such as maize and vegetables increases their production.
Mukono municipality lies in an urban periphery. Whereas the location factor offers a market potential for the products, lots of huddles are experienced.
Urban animals stray to the gardens destroying the mushrooms. Also considering the fact that women play a critical role of ensuring that they provide water and food to the home alongside the different sex roles, some of the members in the group have dropped off.
Through mushroom growing, people affected or infected with HIV and AIDS have been able to boost their immunity hence live longer. Personal hygiene is paramount in the families of those engaged in mushroom growing since there are high hygienic requirements needed in the processing of mushrooms. With assistance from the local government and support from the Community Driven Demand (CDD) project, the group intends to develop into a community information centre. CDD is government fund sent to every sub county across the country intended to “kick start” innovation by farmers.