UN food agency signals link between hunger and AIDS

UN food agency signals link between hunger and AIDS

As United Nations Member States prepare for the first General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS, the World Food Programme (WFP) is calling on the global community to recognize that eradicating hunger is critical in slowing the spread of AIDS.

"The link between hunger and AIDS is frequently overlooked and must be addressed immediately if the international community is to truly come to grips with this crisis," said Namanga Ngongi, WFP Deputy Executive Director. "Poor nutrition increases the progression of HIV to AIDS. Good nutrition is critical to any prevention and care strategy."

According to WFP, access to food and good nutrition can go a long way towards alleviating the suffering and interrupting the downward spiral of malnutrition, increased fatigue, illness and decreased work productivity. "Although the statistics are not yet complete, there is increasing evidence that most HIV/AIDS patients in hospitals in poor countries are there because they are suffering from malnutrition," Mr. Ngongi said. "My concern is this fact has not been well-articulated nor fully appreciated."

HIV/AIDS has a devastating effect on poor families, forcing many to mortgage their land and sell productive assets to pay for food and medicine. Children are often withdrawn from school in order to work in the fields, earn income or care for sick adults, thereby depriving them of a better future.

The virus also has a direct impact on agricultural production and people's ability to feed themselves, according to WFP. In addition, when all of a household's coping mechanisms are exhausted, family members resort to survival strategies. Among the most desperate is trading sex in return for food or money, putting women, girls and boys at even greater risk of infection.

Currently, WFP is working with communities worldwide, using food aid to help slow the progression of the disease and cushion the devastating effect it has on people's ability to feed themselves. In both its development and humanitarian operations, WFP said it was reaching millions of AIDS-affected families.