Feature story

New UNAIDS policy on HIV, food security and nutrition

21 May 2008

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In many parts of the world, lack of food
security and poor nutrition are worsening
the effects of the HIV epidemic.
Photo credit: UNAIDS/M.Jensen 

In many parts of the world, lack of food security and poor nutrition are worsening the effects of the HIV epidemic. Food insecurity and poor nutrition can hasten the progression of AIDS related illnesses, while the virus itself reduces the capacity of people living with HIV to work to provide food for themselves and their families.

For this reason UNAIDS, in collaboration the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), has developed a policy brief on HIV, food security and nutrition. This policy provides guidance for governments, civil society and other partners on how to address food and nutrition concerns in the context of HIV, keeping in mind the commitment made by all UN member states through the Millennium Development Goals both to reduce chronic hunger and halt and reverse the spread of HIV by 2015.

Food Security, Nutrition and HIV vulnerability
Lack of food security constrains people’s choices in employment and education and can lead women, for example, to engage in behaviours which can increase HIV risk such as exchanging sex for food or money. HIV positive mothers also need access to clean water and breast milk substitutes if they are to reduce the likelihood of transmitting HIV to their children.

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Proper nutrition is critical to
realizing the full benefits of
antiretroviral therapy.
Photo credit:
UNAIDS/L.Alyanak

Treatment
Proper nutrition is critical to realizing the full benefits of antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART itself may increase appetite and it is possible to reduce side effects and thus help people with HIV to stay on treatment if medicines are taken with food. “For two years I have been running HIV and nutrition interventions and have witnessed first hand the positive effect of nutritional counselling and support on patients receiving ART,” claims Dr Praphan Phanuphak, Director of the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre. “Countries (should) set aside a percentage of their ART budget for nutritional interventions, and provide patients with income to buy food for themselves and their families, in the initial phase of treatment, when they may not be strong enough to resume work,”

Impact Mitigation
HIV can reduce capacity to work and earn income for food. It can have particularly devastating consequences where agriculture is the main source of income, leading to decreased food production and hence food insecurity. In rural households coping with HIV, where agriculture is the main employer, ensuring transfer of farming knowledge between generations and instituting measures to improve agricultural productivity will go a long way to ameliorating the impact of HIV.

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HIV can reduce capacity to work and earn
income for food.
Photo credit: UNAIDS/M.Jensen

More generally, for households and communities dealing with HIV, “fighting stigma and discrimination will also help people with HIV to find and maintain employment, and thus be able to meet their own nutritional requirements,” notes Dr Phanuphak.

There is a positive association between education and reduction in HIV risk. Better educated children are more likely to absorb prevention information and adopt safer behaviours. Yet households that are not food secure are often forced to take children out of school in order to work to supplement the income lost as a result of their parents’ illness and/or death.

Therefore, UNAIDS, the World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that all actors, including Governments, international agencies and civil society, support effective food security and nutrition interventions, as part of a comprehensive and multisectoral response to HIV.