Global food crisis threatens HIV control
in Latin America, rest of world
Lack of food undermines treatment, fuels risky coping behavior
Mexico City, Aug. 7, 2008
—The global food crisis threatens to undo progress made against HIV as growing numbers of people facing deeper poverty and a lack of nutrition resort to risky behaviors to survive, warns a Latin American health specialist with global aid agency World Vision.
A spike in food prices that is projected to continue in coming years demands that governments and humanitarian groups address food security as part of their work against the HIV and AIDS pandemic, said Dr. Ramon Soto, World Vision’s regional director for HIV and AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean, at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City.
“The outlook is serious in our region,” said Dr. Soto. “A lack of access to adequate food –- whether due to higher prices or shortages -– means more people on HIV treatment will suffer from a lack of nutrition that can undermine the medicines’ effects.”
“At the same time, more impoverished girls and women turn to transactional sex for money to feed their families. This coping behavior puts them at high risk of acquiring the virus that causes AIDS,” he said.
Studies have shown undernourished people are more likely to die during the first three months of antiretroviral therapy (ART) than well-nourished people, due to the medications’ side effects. Also, pregnant and undernourished women with HIV are more prone to transmit the virus to their babies, according to a World Food Programme report.
“Only with proper nutrition will the drugs have full impact in keeping HIV-positive children and adults alive and healthy,” said Dr. Soto. “There is an urgent need to ensure food security and nutritional support now in order to bolster the fight against HIV and AIDS.
“We need to create and support safe alternative ways families can boost their income, such as through micro-lending for small, entrepreneurial businesses and food production. Programs that assure fortified feeding for children to boost their immune systems, such as our work in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, are examples of effective interventions on this front,” Soto said.
There is a close relationship between HIV and poverty, with the epidemic’s impact hardest felt in the poorest developing nations, where almost 90 percent of affected people live.
World Vision, one of the WFP’s largest partners in food aid distribution, also works in long-term programs to integrate its HIV and AIDS response with programs that also address nutrition and food security. One of these examples is the MICAH program in Africa, where an integrated approach to nutrition and health targeted 2.7 million people in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania and Senegal. Community livestock-raising and farming as well as training, supplies and support, have helped reduce undernourishment and anemia in HIV-affected communities.
For more information, or an interview with one of World Vision’s HIV and AIDS experts, contact Geraldine Ryerson-Cruz in Mexico City at +1 .202.615.2608 or +52.55.3856.5043 (local mobile).
:: More about World Vision at the International AIDS Conference
Notes to editors
World Vision’s AIDS programs are in 60+ nations, many in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 90 percent of the world’s HIV-infected children live. Other regions with programs include Asia, Latin America and the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Partnering with local communities and faith leaders it works to educate about the disease, to eradicate stigma, encourage voluntary testing, train thousands of home visitors and provide care and assistance to thousands of chronically ill men, women and children.