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Bangkok – Asia, with two-thirds of the world’s underfed people, must give top priority to fighting hunger to build an additional defence against the rapidly growing HIV/AIDS pandemic that threatens social and economic chaos, according to a new FAO nutrition and health care manual. Take two tablets after meals, but don’t forget the meals, says the world food agency.

Published jointly with the World Health Organization (WHO), it highlights the hitherto ignored nutritional dimension of HIV/AIDS. “The nutritional aspect of HIV/AIDS has been ignored for a long time. The attention was always focused on drugs,” says Kraisid Tontisirin, Director of FAO’s Food and Nutrition Division, and former director of nutrition of Thailand’s Mahidol University. “The message was always: ‘Take two tablets after meals’. But they forgot about the meals,” he adds.

A good diet is one of the simplest means of helping people living with HIV/AIDS and may even help delay the progression of the deadly virus, the two UN agencies said in Living well with HIV/AIDS – A manual on nutritional care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS, released on 25 February.
By bolstering the immune system and boosting energy levels, balanced nutrition can help the body fight back against the ravages of the disease. By maintaining body weight a good diet can support drug treatments and prevent malnutrition.

Almost 95 percent of people with HIV/AIDS live in developing countries where healthcare, resources and drugs are scarce. For them a balanced diet is a positive way of responding to the illness. “Food isn’t a magic bullet. It won’t stop people dying of AIDS,” William Clay of FAO’s Food and Nutrition Division said, “But it can help them live longer, more comfortable and more productive lives.”
The manual offers inexpensive, locally available remedies for the symptoms linked to AIDS. Herbs and spices can stimulate a sluggish appetite or digestion and may have other beneficial effects. Cinnamon can be brewed into a tea to calm chesty coughs, for example, and mint leaves can be used as a gargle.
By encouraging good nutritional habits FAO and WHO hope the manual will improve the diet, health and resistance to infection of the entire family. Designed to be used by carers, health-workers, community groups and non-governmental organizations, the manual includes forms to monitor weight loss and food intake; fact-sheets outlining the principles of a healthy diet; tips on how to ensure good hygiene when preparing food; and recipes with immune system-boosting micronutrients like vitamins and minerals.

AIDS has a devastating effect on a person’s nutritional wellbeing: nutrient absorption is reduced; appetite and metabolism are disrupted; muscles, organs and other tissues waste away; and secondary infections and other stresses increase demands for energy and nutrients. Despite blunt appetites and difficulties in eating, people living with HIV/AIDS should eat considerably more food to fight the illness and make up for weight loss.

As part of a balanced diet someone affected by HIV/AIDS needs more protein to rebuild muscle tissue, more energy-rich foods for weight gain, immune system-boosting vitamins and minerals and water to combat dehydration.

The manual focuses on ways of easing the symptoms of HIV/AIDS – lack of appetite, tiredness, soreness of mouth – by suggesting recipes for soups, teas and stews using fruit and vegetables – guava, papaya and baobab for example – that grow in the rural areas of the developing world hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic.
“We hope this guide will be a building block, that it will be adapted by AIDS-affected communities and that it will make people aware of the vital role played by nutrition for someone living with HIV or AIDS,” said Clay.

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