HIV: the impact of under-nutrition on resilience

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HIV is a virus that damages the cells of the immune system, weakening the ability to fight everyday infections and diseases. AIDS is the term used to describe a range of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that occur as a result of a severely damaged immune system by the HIV virus. Morbidity (condition of being diseased) and mortality (state of being subject to death) related to HIV infection in the developing world remains extremely and worryingly high, therefore, the Millennium Development Goals have stated aims to achieve zero hunger by 2030 while also aiming to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV.

The presence of under-nutrition in individuals with HIV promotes an almost negative feedback loop which results in a reduced resilience to the life of individuals, households and communities.

Food security is a state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable nutritious food. In households with food insecurity, there is an acceleration of the progression of HIV to AIDS and its related illnesses. Food insecurity can also reduce an individual’s response to antiretroviral therapy (HIV treatment), however on the other hand, the presence of HIV infection also undermines food security and nutrition status by reducing an infected individual’s work capacity and productivity levels – this can jeopardise the effects on the livelihoods of households and communities as a whole.  This is because the presence of HIV and malnutrition weakens the immune system of people, while also creating a state where there is an increased susceptibility to co-infections of both states.

HIV also impairs nutritional status by undermining nutrient intake, absorption and use; adults living with HIV for example, have 10-30% higher energy requirements than their HIV negative counterparts. In developing countries where carbohydrate, protein and fat deficiency (macro-nutrient) as well as food insecurity are very prevalent, the impacts are detrimental.

Good nutrition, paired with food security status, are therefore essential for keeping HIV positive individuals healthier for as long as possible across their lifespan. This is because a healthier and stronger body can provide better resilience to the opportunistic infections that may lead to the development of AIDS. For this is occur, there must be persistent and uncompromised access to foods of nutritive value for all in society in every single part of the world.

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