Nutrition plays key role in HIV/AIDS care, UN reports

Nutrition plays key role in HIV/AIDS care, UN reports

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With almost 95 per cent of people with HIV/AIDS living in developing countries where healthcare and drugs are scarce, two United Nations agencies today said a good diet is one of the simplest means of caring for people affected by the epidemic and may even help delay the progression of the deadly virus.

The nutritional aspects of HIV/AIDS have been ignored for a long time with most of the attention focused on drugs. A new manual published jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) seeks to redress this situation offering simple and practical dietary suggestions for people living with HIV/AIDS.

"Food isn't a magic bullet. It won't stop people dying of AIDS," said William Clay of FAO's Food and Nutrition Division. "But it can help them live longer, more comfortable and more productive lives."

By bolstering the immune system and boosting energy levels, balanced nutrition can help the body fight back against the ravages of the disease. This is critical because most people living with HIV/AIDS are in poor countries where healthcare, resources and drugs are scarce. For them a balanced diet is a positive way of responding to the illness.

"Nutrition counselling and support is an essential component of care for the HIV-infected person and it is particularly important in resource-constrained settings where malnutrition and food insecurity are endemic," said WHO Technical Officer Randa Saadeh.

The manual offers households caring for a family member with AIDS inexpensive, locally available remedies for the symptoms linked to the disease. Designed to be used by care-givers, health-workers, community groups and non-governmental organizations, the manual includes forms to monitor weight loss and food intake, fact-sheets outlining the principles of a healthy diet and recipes with immune system-boosting micronutrients like vitamins and minerals.

To ensure that the benefits of good nutrition reach people living with HIV/AIDS, the UN agencies FAO and WHO are also developing training courses and educational materials for health workers and care providers. The first field-testing of this course will take place in South Africa this week.