Food and HIV

In the focus on universal access to ARV treatment for people living with AIDS, it’s easy to forget the other thing that helps people survive HIV infection: food. Good nutrition has a huge impact on the progression of AIDS. Poverty in general makes HIV hit harder, but poor nutrition is the major part of that effect.

The World Food Programme’s head of nutrition and HIV, Martin Boem, spoke at the AIDS 3020 conference in Vienna today. He reminded the audience that “Among malnourished patients that start antiretroviral therapy (ART), the risk of death is 2-6 times higher compared to those who are receiving proper nourishment.” Universal access, it seems to me, is about more than just food.

To quote the WFP website, “People living with HIV need more calories to help fight the virus. HIV-positive children need between 50 to 100 percent more calories, compared to HIV-negative children, while adults need up to 30 percent more calories as the disease progresses.”

In other words, if we provide nutritional support to people living with AIDS, they have longer, healthier lives. It doesn’t require technology, expensive medicines, or health care personnel. Just regular food. We ought to be able to do that.