Aids patients need ARVs, food

Sheila Sisulu

Sheila Sisulu

For most people reading this, in an era of obesity, the idea of going to the doctor when we are sick and being told to eat more is bizarre. And yet, for millions of people in the developing world, under-nutrition is the root cause of many of their ailments.

Hungry people are far less effective in fighting disease than well-fed people. Infections, no matter how mild, have an adverse effect on one's nutritional status, triggering different reactions, including reduced appetite.

It is a self-perpetuating problem, strongly linked to political and economic choices. Just as poor health and under nutrition affect the growth and development of an individual, so they constrain the social and economic development of nations.

These links are explored in a major report published this week by the UN World Food Programme. The World Hunger Series 2007- Hunger and Health is the second in a series which was launched last year.

One of the clearest examples of the close relationship between hunger and health is in Aids. When a person is infected with HIV, their intestinal track is affected, resulting in poor absorption and loss of appetite - and this comes precisely when they should increase their energy intake.

Given the huge sums of money invested in Aids research and spent on anti-retroviral treatment, it is surprising how many donors overlook the need for a comprehensive package that includes food support when treating people with Aids.

And the cost of that food supplement is less than two percent of the current cost of drug programmes - averaging at just 66cents a person a day.

Sheila Sisulu is deputy executive director of the WFP. She presented WFP's World Hunger Series 2007 in Rome yesterday.

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