News / Africa

Study: HIV, Food Insecurity Closely Linked

Food Security, HIV/AIDS Treatment and Prevention Closely Linked
Food Security, HIV/AIDS Treatment and Prevention Closely Linked
Joe DeCapua
A new study says Africa suffers from a co-epidemic of HIV/AIDS and food insecurity. Researchers say treatment and better nutrition go hand-in-hand in controlling the epidemic.


Dr. Sheri Weiser said when people fall ill due to HIV, accessing food becomes “progressively more difficult.”

“Food insecurity and HIV are interacting like a vicious cycle to worsen the severity as well as enhancing vulnerability to the other condition,” she said.

Weiser is an assistant professor of medicine at the HIV/AIDS Division at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. She’s also the study’s principal investigator.

“We started having data from Botswana and Swaziland showing that food insecurity was increasing risky sexual practices. So you saw women who were exchanging sex in order to get food to feed their children or having difficulty insisting on condom use when they were dependent on their partner for food. And that food insecurity was also worsening vulnerability to sexual violence. And all of these were contributing to driving HIV,” she said.

A person infected by HIV is further weakened by poor nutrition. That’s an additional blow to the immune system.

“We saw that food insecurity was driving increases in opportunistic infections, worse response to treatment, making it really difficult for people to take their medications and adhere to their medications and even leading to increased mortality. And interestingly, we saw this not only in sub-Saharan Africa but also in San Francisco and elsewhere in North America,” said Weiser.

The cycle continues when people get sicker and they are unable to find a job to buy food. And stigma from HIV can make it more difficult to find support from others.

Weiser said that at the beginning of the study, 80 percent of those infected with HIV had some level of food insecurity. That began to change when they were given antiretroviral therapy or ART.

“After time on ART and after we followed participants for approximately two years we saw very steep declines in food insecurity. And at the same time we saw parallel increases in their nutritional status and their quality of life and physical health status. So what this really shows is that ART does contribute to a decline in food insecurity,” she said.

Dr. David Bangsberg, director of the Center for Global Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, is the senior author of the study.

He said, “The expansion of HIV treatment in Africa has made great progress in making people healthier and stronger, such that they can return to work and grow food or security meaningful economic employment to purchase food for themselves and their family. So HIV treatment helps improve access to food in a very significant way.”

But Bangsberg added that getting people on antiretroviral therapy does not mean they will stay on it. One reason, he says, is a possible side effect of the drugs.

“As they get better and their bodies begin to recover their appetite returns and experience severe hunger pains in their first few weeks of HIV treatment. Some patients attribute these hunger pains to a side effect to treatment and then some of those will then stop treatment in order to mitigate the hunger pains. Clearly the best response is not to stop treatment, but rather to help someone have access to food.”

Both Bangsberg and Weiser are sharing their findings with U.N. humanitarian agencies and officials from PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

They warn though that the dual issue of HIV and food insecurity is not just an African problem. They say the same conditions exist among the urban poor in North America, including such cities as San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston and Vancouver. They say as many as 50 percent of HIV infected people in those areas, who are on treatment, are food insecure. 

The study’s findings can be found in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

You May Like

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Activists for Peace Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified boarder, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs