Feature story

The impact of nutrition and HIV: World Food Programme

26 November 2008

Credit: UNAIDS/ L. Alyanak

The World Food Programme (WFP) is the lead UN agency providing emergency food assistance and the world's largest humanitarian agency. As a cosponsor of UNAIDS it also plays a unique and significant role in the global AIDS response. In 2007, WFP reached 1.3 million people affected by HIV in 20 of the 25 highest HIV prevalence countries.

For a person living with HIV to respond well to antiretroviral treatment, access to adequate food is essential. WFP was one of the first agencies to provide food to complement the expansion of people’s access to HIV treatment. Last year, WFP supported treatment programmes in 16 African countries, providing food support to over 332,000 beneficiaries during the critical early stages of treatment.

High Food Prices

With high food prices jeopardizing household food security of some of the most vulnerable people in the world, the importance of WFP’s nutritional response for people living with HIV and their families has never been more urgent. A recent pilot study from Zambia showed that food supplementation improved treatment adherence and there is growing evidence from various countries that health clinic attendance has decreased as food prices increase.


WFP’s lead role in dietary and nutritional support in the UNAIDS Division of Labour (DoL) involve leadership in the delivery of food assistance and nutritional support and in enhancing national actions through advocacy, guidance and technical support.

WFP is central to efforts to scale up HIV services for populations of humanitarian concern, and it has been integrating HIV treatment and support with inter-agency emergency preparedness, response and recovery activities in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. Many different food products are being developed and tested to improve the health and well-being of people on HIV treatment. WFP’s is involved in providing support to scientific studies on the efficacy of specially formulated food products for the nutritional needs of people living with HIV.

Unique contribution at national level

WFP works through national governments and local partners to provide food and nutritional assistance to food insecure people living with HIV and their families. This can make a big difference to a household when the main breadwinner is too ill to work. It also provides in-school meals for orphans and other children affected by HIV. It also provides technical assistance to national governments to ensure that people living with HIV have access to appropriate nutritional food to accompany their treatment and the Programme ensures that people living with HIV link to community support mechanisms to help ensure longer-term livelihood survival.

WFP and “responsible transport”

WFP works with private sector companies that employ thousands of truck drivers to transport food and goods to people in need. However throughout Southern Africa, high prevalence rates of HIV are found along the commercial transport corridors and the World Food Programme, taking its corporate responsibility seriously, wishes to minimize the risks of HIV infection.

In the past year, WFP has improved its HIV prevention and health services for transport workers under its commitment to support “responsible transport”. The project helps to protect the health and well-being of transporters and the local communities they come in contact with along the way. The wellness centre pilot project in Malawi, supported by WFP and TNT, has grown into an independent non-profit alliance called North Star Foundation (NSF) that includes UNAIDS and the International Transport Workers Federation as partners. Five NSF wellness centres are now operating – two in Malawi, one in Namibia, one in Swaziland and one in Zambia; two more in Zimbabwe will open in 2008. NSF will work with Family Health International to set up 23 wellness centres in eight east African countries over the next three years.

Country offices in Benin, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Kenya and Niger have worked with United Nations and NGO partners to provide HIV training, improved access to health services and enhanced workplace HIV policies for transport workers.

New Guidance Materials Produced by WFP

In response to requests from country offices for detailed guidance on HIV programming, several guidance tools have recently produced. These are linked on right of the page under “Tools”.

Future Directions

WFP can help advance the debate on and deepen understanding of the nutritional needs of people living with HIV and their family members, working together with the cosponsors by advocating with major funding mechanisms such as PEPFAR and the Global Fund. WFP can help ensure that national and community-level HIV and AIDS programmes, especially treatment programmes, include gender-responsive nutritional components. WFP can also support and promote scientific studies that look at the efficacy of specially formulated foods for the nutritional needs of PLHIV.