The UN World Food Programme is calling on the humanitarian community to recognize the importance of food and good nutrition in combating HIV/AIDS.
“Having enough food and the right kind of food has been a long overlooked remedy in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” said Jamie Wickens, WFP’s Deputy Director of Operations. “Food helps interrupt the downward spiral of malnutrition, increased fatigue, illness and decreased work productivity. As important as drugs and education are to combating the disease, food is a first defense that keeps people healthier longer.”
Ninety/five percent of people suffering from HIV/AIDS live in developing countries, where poverty and hunger are already the heavy burdens of daily life. The widespread effects of the disease are being felt around the developing world, particularly in sub/Saharan Africa, where nine out of ten new infections occur.
Without proper nutrition, HIV wears the body down faster and leaves its host more vulnerable to other kinds of infection, which further increase malnutrition. To remain productive, people who are HIV/positive should increase their food intake and consume more protein as well as foods rich in micronutrients.
“When we interview people living with AIDS in poor countries, the first thing they say is that they need food,” said Wickens. “The international community must better address the fundamental need for food for people suffering with HIV/AIDS.”
WFP held a round table discussion to discuss the challenge of HIV/AIDS to food security and nutrition with FAO, IFAD and WHO as well as NGO representatives from Africa and Asia and university academics at the Barcelona conference on Thursday, 11 July.
For the families of people living with HIV/AIDS, food is also a primary concern. When the family breadwinner becomes ill, families are often forced to sell off productive assets, spend their savings on food and medicine, and withdraw children from school to put them to work or to care for sick adults. Food consumption has been shown to drop by as much as 40 percent in households affected by HIV/AIDS.
“When you’re poor and you can no longer work and support your family, your biggest fear is where your next meal will come from,” said Wickens.
Because of the explosion of HIV/AIDS in the developing world and the importance of food and good nutrition among poor populations, WFP began to include HIV/AIDS/specific activities in its key operations last year. Currently, the agency has implemented or planned 30 HIV/AIDS/specific projects to help approximately one million people affected by HIV/AIDS worldwide, especially in sub/Saharan Africa.
More can be done, however. “Donors need to drastically increase their support for our efforts in the HIV/AIDS arena,” said Wickens. “Most of our projects are very short on funds. We need more funding now for people living with HIV/AIDS.”
Wickens pointed out that some of the very HIV/AIDS sufferers his agency is seeking to help are now undergoing a further threat to their lives – impending starvation in southern Africa, the epicenter of the global AIDS epidemic. WFP estimates that nearly 13 million people are at risk in six countries and that up to 20 percent of them are infected with HIV/AIDS.
“With the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the region, we’re trying to feed many people who are already caught up in the wider AIDS emergency, making it even harder for them to survive,” he said. “The Barcelona conference serves as an opportunity to put the issue of food on the agenda and ensure that we recognize its fundamental role in helping people and their families who are affected by HIV/AIDS.”
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