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Malnutrition Worsens the HIV/AIDS Pandemic

One of the subjects that’ll be addressed at the upcoming international AIDS conference in Toronto will be the link between malnutrition and HIV/AIDS. Experts say hunger and poverty can cause people to engage in risky sexual behavior to raise money to buy food.

One of those studying the problem is Stuart Gillespie of the International Food Policy Research Institute. From Geneva, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the links between malnutrition and HIV/AIDS.

“We’re finding more and more about the type of linkages there are and the importance of those linkages. Initially we felt the obvious direction of the linkage was that AIDS was precipitating or exacerbating food insecurity at the household level. But the more we’re looking into it we realize there’s another link, another direction to that link, which is that people who are extremely poor or food insecure are much more likely to be put at risk of being exposed to the virus through what they have to do to find income or work. They may be put at risk. And second, if they’re malnourished they’re also going to be more likely to be infected with the virus during any unsafe sex.”

Gillespie says it’s common for poor people in Africa to ask for food aid before agreeing to listen to health workers explain to risks of HIV/AIDS. “It’s the fundamental importance of food both as a means to be healthy, as a means to be productive, which has always been there. That’s nothing new. But to be able to get back on your feet and not have to worry about getting food for the family if you’re sick or if another adult is sick is absolutely the number one primary concern we’re seeing over and over again,” he says.

The IFPRI official has some recommendations: “For example, linking nutritional support with the rollout of treatment. We see a direct, very specific interaction between nutritional support in the form of diverse food supplements…and drugs. Whereby the drugs will work better with food. The side effects will be less, which means that people will take the drugs…but then on a household or community level we’re working with agricultural ministries and social development ministries of ways of mainstreaming an understanding of HIV. What HIV is doing in economies, communities and societies. Trying to mainstream that awareness in the way they plan their programs.”

Gillespie will speak at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto, which begins August 13th. An estimated 24,000 people are expected to attend.