With the rollout of AIDS therapies, volunteer AIDS care has been promoted across Africa under the assumption that volunteerism is economically imperative in settings of health professional and resource scarcity. As low-income volunteers have become a major part of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment workforces, it is imperative to question how poverty impacts their well-being. This chapter presents epidemiologic data collected during the 2008 food crisis from a sample of 110 AIDS care volunteers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as well as narratives offered by HIV-positive volunteers, highlighting a widely overlooked way in which food insecurity and mental distress impact efforts to treat AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Food insecurity and elevated common mental disorder (CMD) symptom loads were common and tightly linked among the volunteers in the sample. Volunteers who were HIV-positive (17 percent) fared slightly worse in terms of food insecurity and psychosocial well-being. However, positive HIV serostatus was not associated with CMD in multivariate analyses accounting for food insecurity. Narratives illustrate how being HIV-positive shaped experiences of psychosocial stress, which involved unemployment and lack of prospects for marital relationships or strife within them. Our focus demonstrates the potential for mixing ethnographic and epidemiological methods to inform policy questions regarding poverty-reduction through compensation for volunteers’ valuable labor, as well as AIDS care program sustainability.
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