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A 65-year-old Malawian woman with six of her nine grandchildren, whose parents have died of AIDS (UNICEF/HQ93-0757/Andrew)
food security


HIV/AIDS has direct impacts on nutrition, particularly for people living with HIV/AIDS and for nutritionally vulnerable members in HIV/AIDS-affected households.

People living with HIV face a vicious cycle in which repeated episodes of illness caused by HIV lead to malnutrition, and malnutrition in turn further accelerates the onset of AIDS. HIV damages a person's immune system, and the repeated illness that ensues reduces appetite; moreover, nutrients are lost from vomiting and diarrhoea, and the use of certain medications. Infections also interfere with the body's ability to absorb and use nutrients, which are needed to fight off HIV. This has serious consequences for the poor, who are more likely to be malnourished even before they become infected.

Malnutrition in itself also leads to the suppression of the immune system, giving rise to more frequent illnesses and accelerating the development of AIDS. It may also be associated with increased risk of HIV transmission from mother to child.

The recurring bouts of sickness of those living with HIV places an enormous workload on those who care for them and those who foster orphans. Female-headed and orphan-headed households are most at risk. Moreover, the costs of health care and the labour constraints gradually drain the household of its means to make a living. This further exacerbates poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition and disease. Food-insecure households are more likely to turn to livelihoods that put them at greater risk of infection, such as migration and prostitution.

related links
HIV/AIDS and nutrition: helping families and communities to cope
A manual on nutritional care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS
UN Nutrition Policy Paper: nutrition and HIV/AIDS (pdf)
agrobiodiversity, food security and HIV/AIDS mitigation in sub-Saharan Africa: strategic issues for agricultural policy and programme responses
FAO Food and Nutrition Division
more FAO publications

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