For people living with HIV in poor countries, there are already many barriers to accessing life-saving medication and also to the nutritional food that will help the treatment work. But for populations affected by emergencies, such as the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it's even harder. This was one of the messages that emerged at the ICASA conference in Cape Town this week. WFP's Natalie Aldern was there and shares her read-out here.
Much of the discussion at the 17th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) has applauded the unprecedented results achieved in prevention and treatment of HIV. Also highlighted at the event held in Cape Town, South Africa, in December have been the additional steps needed to achieve the goal of zero new HIV infections.
As one of 11 co-sponsors of UNAIDS, the UN World Food Programme plays a lead role in providing food and nutrition support to affected populations. Recent studies show that early access to anti-retoviral treatment (ART) not only prevents HIV-positive people from dying but helps curb the spread of the virus. Proper food and nutrition play an essential role in this equation by keeping people living with HIV (PLHIV) people healthy for longer and improving the effectiveness of their treatment.
However, populations affected by emergencies such as the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo face additional barriers to accessing life-saving ART and other HIV-related support services. In the DRC, where the medical services have been severely disrupted, 51% of PLHIV initiating ART are malnourished. "A WFP survey found that PLHIV reported that they did not have enough to eat a third of the time," explained WFP Programme Officer in DRC, Patrice Badibanga. Delivering ART and nutrition support together is an essential response as it has been shown that mortality can be two to six times higher among malnourished patients in the first six months after beginning treatment.
That is why, under the triple burden of HIV, conflict and food insecurity, WFP is ensuring the people living with HIV have access to essential food and nutrition support.
WFP's nutrition and HIV programmes in DRC help 93 percent of ART patients adhere to the recommended medical regimes - a significant increase over the 79 percent national average. Furthermore, a study has shown that after six months of WFP support, the nutritional status of assisted patients improves dramatically.
"Access to nutrition is limited in emergencies", said Dr. Esterina Novello Nyilok, Chairperson of the South Sudan HIV and AIDS Commission."Lack of nutrition can push people living with HIV into more complications with mal-adherence to ART and malnutrition and can result in a medical crisis." Dr. Novello Nyilok reminded those at the HIV in Emergencies session that when talking about vulnerable groups affected by HIV, "populations in emergency settings are the most neglected group."