Food is important for everyone. Familiar foods make us feel safe and secure. Food reminds us of our childhood, home country and culture. We celebrate events by eating special foods in the company of people who are important to us. When we eat well we feel well.
Food provides the energy and nutrients that our bodies need to:
When the body does not get enough food, it becomes weak and cannot develop or function properly. Healthy and balanced nutrition means eating the right type of foods in the right quantities to keep healthy, keep fit and enjoy ourselves. The basics of good nutrition are explained in the next chapter.
The HIV virus attacks the immune system. In the early stages of infection a person shows no visible signs of illness but later many of the signs of AIDS will become apparent, including weight loss, fever, diarrhoea and opportunistic infections (such as sore throat and tuberculosis).
Good nutritional status is very important from the time a person is infected with HIV. Nutrition education at this early stage gives the person a chance to build up healthy eating habits and to take action to improve food security in the home, particularly as regards the cultivation, storage and cooking of food.
Good nutrition is also vital to help maintain the health and quality of life of the person suffering from AIDS. Infection with HIV damages the immune system, which leads to other infections such as fever and diarrhoea. These infections can lower food intake because they both reduce appetite and interfere with the body's ability to absorb food. As a result, the person becomes malnourished, loses weight and is weakened.
One of the possible signs of the onset of clinical AIDS is a weight loss of about 6-7 kg for an average adult. When a person is already underweight, a further weight loss can have serious effects. A healthy and balanced diet, early treatment of infection and proper nutritional recovery after infection can reduce this weight loss and reduce the impact of future infection.
A person may be receiving treatment for the opportunistic infections and also perhaps combination therapy for HIV; these treatments and medicines may influence eating and nutrition. Good nutrition will reinforce the effect of the drugs taken.
When nutritional needs are not met, recovery from an illness will take longer. During this period the family will have the burden of caring for the sick person, paying for health care and absorbing the loss of earnings while the ill person is unable to work. In addition, good nutrition can help to extend the period when the person with HIV/AIDS is well and working.
The role of nutrition education as HIV infection develops
Nutritional care and support promote well-being, self-esteem and a positive attitude to life for people and their families living with HIV/AIDS.
Healthy and balanced nutrition should be one of the goals of counselling and care for people at all stages of HIV infection. An effective programme of nutritional care and support will improve the quality of life of people living with HIV/AIDS, by:
Relationship between good nutrition and HIV/AIDS
Source: adapted from Piwoz and Prebel, 2000.