November 2002 -- Eating well can help delay the
progression from HIV to AIDS-related diseases. This is because
good nutrition improves quality of life for people living with
the disease and helps to improve the performance of the immune
system -- the body's protection against infection.
But poor farmers in developing countries,
lacking adequate and balanced diets, are dying of AIDS before
they can pass on vital agricultural skills to their children.
With better food, these parents could live a vital few years
longer and have the energy to pass on their knowledge. Food
consumption in Africa has been found to drop by 40 percent in
households afflicted by the disease.
"Food is the first medicine for HIV/AIDS --
and often the only medicine," says Marcela Villarreal,
FAO AIDS specialist. "As tragic as it is to be
orphaned, it is very different being orphaned at 15 years of age
than being orphaned at 7. If parents could live a few more
years, they could take their children to the fields and teach
them by doing."
Now, she adds,
those with the virus who don't have adequate, hygienically
prepared food may only live two years with full-blown AIDS. They
are frequently bed-ridden and too weak to go to the fields.
A study in Kenya showed that only 7 percent
of agricultural households headed by orphans had adequate
knowledge of agricultural production. In a region like
sub-Saharan Africa, where 11 million children are orphaned by
HIV/AIDS, extending the life of a farming parent by several
years could mean the difference between life and death for the
children left behind.
aid with longer term measures
message from FAO regarding food and AIDS -- on the occasion of
World AIDS Day, 2 December -- comes at a time when an estimated
14 million people in southern Africa face starvation from a
combination of drought, economic and civil problems and the
effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
advocates combining food aid with longer term food security
measures -- for example, introducing crops that need less labour
to cultivate. "Rural development, agricultural policies
and food security cannot be handled independently of the
HIV/AIDS epidemic," says Ms Villarreal.
"HIV/AIDS must be integrated systematically into plans
for responding to and preventing food crises in endemic areas.
Failure to do so will put millions at risk."
Major push for low-labour farming
In Mozambique and Zambia, FAO is promoting
cultivation of inexpensive, low-input, low-labour crops such as
fruit and vegetables, as well as small animals and cassava,
through projects worth a combined US$6.8 million. These
techniques reduce the strain on households that have lost adult
family members, leaving behind mainly children and the elderly.
FAO nutritionist Karel Callens, recently
stationed in AIDS-ravaged northern Zambia, says the situation is
so grim in that part of Africa that orphaned children were seen
wandering in the streets without family or neighbours to take
them in, a situation previously unheard of in rural Africa. Some
of those orphans were taken in by a church-run orphanage. FAO
helped the orphanage to start a vegetable garden so the children
could learn how to grow food, thereby feeding themselves and
earning a little money by selling produce.
How to cook for those with AIDS
Another initiative aims to help improve the
nutrition of people suffering from HIV and AIDS. FAO, with the
World Health Organization, will soon publish Living well with
HIV/AIDS: a manual on nutritional care and support for people
living with HIV/AIDS. Many of the symptoms associated with AIDS
-- such as diarrhoea, weight loss, sore mouth and throat, nausea
and vomiting -- are manageable with appropriate nutrition. The
manual provides practical advice on how to do so in poor
Once a largely urban problem,
HIV/AIDS now afflicts rural areas as well. No longer simply a
health issue, the disease is devastating societies as awhole and
thus requires a broad range of policy responses. FAO promotes
nutritional care for people living with the disease and works to
mitigate its effects on food security, nutrition and
livelihoods. FAO also helps governments and institutions develop
policies to deal with the epidemic.
Information Officer, FAO
+39 06 57055521
+39 06 57052346