Hunger Seen as Big Enemy in War on AIDS
November 15, 2006
Starvation and malnutrition are quickly becoming a menace to poor AIDS patients worldwide, second only to a lack of access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, said doctors and health experts. Without sufficient nutrition, many people with AIDS cannot absorb ARVs, whose side effects become worse on an empty stomach and can cause patients to cease treatment altogether.
Hungry people on ARVs are six times likelier to die compared with nourished patients, according to a study in the British journal HIV Medicine. Doctors say many patients in Africa and Haiti simply refuse ARV treatment unless it comes with food.
Worldwide, an estimated 3.8 million AIDS patients needed food assistance this year, according to the UN World Food Program (WFP), which has begun providing monthly food supplements to AIDS patients and their families in Haiti and 50 other countries.
After spending billions for ARV treatment in poor nations, many donor nations are reluctant to spend the extra 66 US cents per patient and family per day needed to provide food security, health experts said. That lack of support is "madness," Stephen Lewis, UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, told the recent 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto.
Health professionals do not want the added burden of becoming food distributors, said Dr. Paul Farmer, whose Zanmi Lasante Hospital in Cange, Haiti, provides free ARV treatment to thousands of patients. But unfortunately, "We need to be in the business of handing out food," he said. Recently, WFP began offering food at the hospital.
"We have the medicine, but many patients don't have the food," said Dr. Chevrin Francky, one of two physicians at St. Michel Hospital in nearby Boucan Carre. He has lost several AIDS patients this year because they lacked food, and he expects to lose more. "The biggest problem is poverty."
11.11.2006; Stevenson Jacobs