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Link Between Hunger, Health and HIV

New UN Report Spotlights Critical Link Between Hunger, Health And Hiv/Aids

New York, Nov 28 2007 6:00PM

In a major report released today ahead of World AIDS Day, observed on 1 December, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has called for paying greater attention to the link between hunger and health, pointing out that food is often cited as the greatest need by people living with HIV/AIDS. WFP’s World Hunger Series 2007 – Hunger and Health explores the relationships between hunger and poor health with particular reference to HIV/AIDS. It notes that while countries invest billions into anti-retroviral treatment (ART) and other medicines to address the pandemic, they overlook the fact that people receiving life-saving drugs often lack food and clean water.

The agency points out that as with any drug, anti-retrovirals are more effective when people are adequately nourished, and food support can help ensure that people who lack food benefit fully from their treatment.

“It is irresponsible to ignore the issue of hunger and malnutrition particularly in the battle against AIDS,” said WFP Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu. “Why should we write off the benefits of medical interventions simply because people are too undernourished to absorb and benefit from the drugs they desperately need?”

Studies show that people with HIV have special nutritional needs, the agency says, noting that even when a person consumes enough food, if they lack certain vitamins and minerals, their immune system is compromised, making them vulnerable to infections.

“Food is often cited by people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS as their greatest and most important need,” said Elizabeth Mataka, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa.

Speaking at a seminar in Rome, at which the report was presented, she added that “nutrition interventions for HIV programmes are often overlooked in the international HIV policy debate and they remain critically under-funded.”

In a related study, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) predicts that 900,000 people going onto ART in 2008 will require food assistance. It is estimated that the average cost of providing food support to a patient is $0.66 per day – less than 2 per cent of the current cost of drug programmes.

WFP, one of the first organizations to provide food assistance alongside ART in poor areas, now supports ART programmes in 16 countries in Africa, benefiting over 182,000 people. With active HIV/AIDS interventions in 50 countries worldwide, the agency is providing food assistance in 21 of 25 nations with the highest HIV prevalence rates.


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