Hunger and malnutrition are significant obstacles to the global fight against the HIV virus. A growing consensus of experts at the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC (AIDS 2012) agreed that helping patients with HIV meet their nutritional needs can make the difference between life and death.
WASHINGTON DC — The connection between food and HIV treatment is not an obvious one, but for millions of people around the world, this connection is vital to both lives and livelihoods.
When high health care costs mean that a family can’t put food on the table, when malnutrition means an HIV patient has a greater risk of dying or when not having enough to eat means experiencing intolerable side effects from treatment, food and nutrition can make the difference between life and death.
“Fortunately, we’ve seen both scientifically and in our own programmes, that when we help people living with HIV overcome hunger and malnutrition, we also help them to fight off illness and regain their health and strength,” said WFP Chief of Nutrition and HIV Policy Martin Bloem.
At the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC (AIDS2012), Bloem moderated a discussion of health and policy experts from around the world to discuss the impact of food assistance in the fight against HIV.
“By providing a safety net for families that have lost a source of income and who face rising expenses, we encourage people to come to clinics to receive and stay on treatment,” he said.
Speaking at the event, which was co-hosted by Harvard Medical School and Partners In Health, Rwandan Minister of Health Agnes Binagwaho remarked on the situation in her country.
“Food is a human right. But most people living with HIV don’t have enough food, and they need more food. So the only thing to do is to give it to them.”
Case in point
When Belaynish and her husband, both of whom are HIV-positive, started receiving nutritious food from WFP, they felt healthier and were better able to adhere to their treatment.
Belaynish also participated in community activities, like urban gardening, to supplement her irregular income. Now, more than a year later, Belaynish and her husband are again strong enough to grow their own food and no longer rely on food assistance to survive.
In 2011, WFP provided food and nutrition support for 2.3 million people living with HIV and TB—the number one killer of people with HIV—moving one step closer to the goal of universal access to treatment.