The UK’s The Food Chain Fights HIV/AIDS Head on With Crisis Support

This London-based charity intervenes in the short term when its clients come up against roadblocks that prevent ready access to good levels of nutrition, whether that crisis is nutritional, physical/mental health, housing, or financial related.

The Food Chain, a London-based charity, assists people living with HIV who need social services ranging from short-term assistance to connections to longer-term support, explained Anna Brewster, services and volunteer manager at The Food Chain.

Transcript

Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about The Food Chain?

My name is Anna Brewster. I'm the services and volunteer manager at The Food Chain. We are a small community-based HIV and nutrition charity in London, and we work with people living with HIV in London who are experiencing times of crisis. That crisis could be anything really. It could be nutritional crisis, health crisis, physical or mental health crisis, housing crisis, financial crisis—anything that means that they're experiencing barriers to accessing good levels of nutrition. We work with anyone who meets those criteria within the London area.

Most of our referrals come directly from the NHS [National Health Service], so from clinicians, from HIV clinics, from hospital dieticians, from GPs [general practitioners], from community nurse specialists. But we do also receive referrals from other HIV support organizations and other community organizations that also identify that need. What we ask from our referrers is that they have an initial assessment, that they make sure that that person meets that criteria of being in crisis—because we're a small charity, we’re a community organization, and we only ever work with short-term crisis intervention. So we expect a referrer to help us make that assessment to make sure that they are indeed someone who is experiencing crisis.

As a small charity, we're only ever able to provide short-term relief. The idea is that our services come into a person's life when they're experiencing that time of crisis and through our services we’re able to alleviate that level of crisis to the extent that they're able to access independently other means of support and kind of lift themselves out a little bit. Obviously, that doesn't always work, especially in the kind of economic climate that we're living in. Even prepandemic, the economic climate that we're living in in the UK means that people's crises are not always easily solved, so it doesn't always work as ideally as we would want it to.

But we answer the needs of our community, really, so if somebody does need a little bit more support then we always try our best to facilitate that, whether that's through direct service provision from ourselves or whether it's through setting up the support system for them outside of ourselves.

How are services for HIV/AIDS covered in the UK?

All HIV care and medications are free at point of access. In terms of accessing HIV care, there really isn't a financial barrier, in that sense, to getting medication or to getting treatment. It's the same with PEP, postexposure prophylaxis, so if somebody thinks they've been exposed to HIV. And it's now, after a long fight, it's now the case with PrEP, preexposure prophylaxis. There is great accessibility in terms of care and medication in the NHS in the UK. I'm very proud to work on the peripheries of the NHS. It's something that we have got to be proud of and we have got to protect and make sure that it's not infringed on.

I do think it's important to note that HIV care is not just about antiretroviral therapy, it's not just about getting your viral load down or your CD4 count up. It's about overall health as well. It's about having the kind of secure housing that enables you to live a life that is without that kind of stress, that you can get your shopping, you can store your shopping in your home, you can cook for yourself, you're not constantly worried about the gas being cut off or the electricity being cut off or being kicked out. It's also about having access to benefits. If you're working in this country, then there is a possibility that your visa states, “No recourse to public funds,” which means that if you fall ill, then you're not necessarily going to be able to claim any state benefits for that period of time when you're ill. It's all those things that feed into a picture of overall health. It's not just about the viral load and the CD4 as I mentioned. We're very grateful that that is free in this country.