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At the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Robin Jackson, chief of the World Food Program (WFP) HIV/AIDS Service, said, "It is time to deliver more than drugs."
Although those with HIV/AIDS often list food as one of their most desperate needs, nutritional support for HIV programs is usually not touched upon during international HIV policy debates, Jackson said, which leaves the programs seriously under-funded.
"The prioritizing of AIDS drugs over basic nutrition has been a grievous distortion that deprives AIDS victims of what they need most," says Mike Adams, a holistic nutritionist. "What good are drugs when a person is suffering multiple nutritional deficiencies that suppress immune function in the first place? These people need real nutrition, not false hope from patented synthetic chemicals."
Estimates by the WFP state that roughly 1 million of the 6.4 million people expected to enroll in 2008 antiretroviral programs will need nutritional support at a cost of approximately 65 cents a day per patient. Jackson said that when AIDS develops, nutrition and food security become important partners in treatment.
Currently, HIV patients are usually only given rations for 6 months until they can get back on their feet, but Jackson cited a recent study found that malnourished patients exposed to antiretroviral therapy are six times more likely to die than well-nourished patients; possibly because malnutrition impairs people's ability to absorb the triple-drug therapy and renders them unable to benefit from it.
Poor nutrition may also heighten susceptibility to HIV-related diseases, and an undependable food supply can increase the likelihood of individuals adopting lifestyles that often lead to infection.
Tests for HIV have become cheaper and more obtainable for governments, but this has unfortunately lead to standalone HIV testing programs that the Human Rights Watch has criticized for being coercive, discriminatory, lacking in confidentiality and deficient in prevention information.
These programs -- such as the proposal before government in Punjab, India that would require people to get tested to receive or keep a driver's license -- criminalize HIV transmission, are often applied in an arbitrary manner and are impotent to slow the spread of HIV, the Human Rights Watch said.