Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- Donor countries have poured billions of dollars into antiretrovirals and other medication to counter the growing impact of AIDS in Africa, Asia and Latin America with barely a thought to nutrition.
Funding antiretrovirals with no thought to food and nutrition is a little like paying a fortune to fix a car but not setting aside money to buy gas, the UN World Food Program (WFP) has observed.
At the International AIDS conference in Toronto, WFP Wednesday called for action among all stakeholders in the fight against AIDS to make food and nutritional support part of the essential package of care for people affected by HIV.
"It is time to deliver more than drugs.
It is time to deliver cost effective and comprehensive programs that include the basic food and nutrition needed for people living with HIV/AIDS and their families," said Robin Jackson, Chief of WFP's HIV/AIDS Service.
A new study released by HIV Medicine concluded that patients who start new antiretroviral therapy while they are malnourished are six times more likely to die than patients who are well nourished.
The study says the reason may be that malnutrition reduces patients' ability to absorb the potent triple-drug antiretroviral therapy and leaves them unable to benefit from the lifesaving medicine.
Malnourished individuals also find it harder to cope with the therapy's debilitating side effects and may take longer to recover their body's immunity to infection.
Food is often cited by people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS as their greatest and most urgent need.
Yet, food has been forgotten in the standard treatment, care and support of HIV/AIDS.
Nutrition interventions for HIV programs are often overlooked in the international HIV policy debate and they remain critically under-funded.
WFP estimates that about one million of the 6.
4 million people who will be enrolled in antiretroviral programmes in 2008 will need some kind of nutritional support.
The cost of providing them with assistance is just Canadian dollar $0.
73 per patient per day, including all transport and programme costs.
For HIV patients, rations are typically only required for six months until they can get back on their feet.