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WHO to Launch Campaign Aimed at Improving Nutrition Among HIV-Positive People in South, Southeast Asia

October 17, 2007

The World Health Organization soon will launch a campaign in South and Southeast Asia aimed at making nutrition programs a central part of HIV/AIDS treatment in the region, Randa Saadeh, a scientist in WHO's Nutrition for Health and Development Department, said recently, Inter Press Service reports. Saadeh was speaking at the end of a weeklong meeting in Bangkok aimed at increasing support for the campaign and ensuring that governments in the region have measures to implement program in place by 2009.

According to Saadeh, this is the first time the region has been targeted to improve nutrition as part of its effort to fight HIV/AIDS. "We want governments to adopt strong positions on this link" between HIV/AIDS and nutrition "as a solution," she said. The campaign follows a similar WHO initiative in sub-Saharan Africa that was launched after the approval of a resolution that formally recognized the link between nutrition and HIV/AIDS at the 2006 World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, Inter Press Service reports. The resolution called on governments to "make nutrition an integral part of their response to HIV/AIDS."

According to WHO, HIV-positive adults and children need 10% more energy than HIV-negative people to maintain their weight. People who have progressed to advanced stages of the disease require 20% to 30% more energy, and HIV-positive children who are losing weight need 50% to 100% more energy to maintain their weight, WHO said. In addition, the growth of HIV-positive children who do not have access to proper nutrition is hindered and can lead to opportunistic infections that "place an additional demand" on children's energy and nutrient needs, according to WHO. HIV-positive people who are malnourished also are at an increased risk of malaria and other diseases, Nigel Rollins, a professor of maternal and child health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, said.

Studies conducted among the estimated four million people living with HIV/AIDS in South and Southeast Asia in 2006 found that many people had difficulty accessing proper nutrition. "High malnutrition rates persist in the region, and food is often identified as the most immediate and critical need by people living with HIV and others affected by the epidemic," WHO said.

Prasada Rao, head of the Asia-Pacific division of UNAIDS, said that HIV-positive people taking antiretroviral drugs might be unable to handle the medication without proper nutrition. He added that low-income populations without proper nutrition also might sell antiretrovirals for money to purchase food. Current "nutrition policies of governments" in the region "do not address the HIV/AIDS concerns," Rao said, adding that HIV/AIDS and nutrition "have to be addressed together, as one" (Macan-Markar, Inter Press Service, 10/14).

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