PlusNews recently reported on the harmful impact of rising food prices on HIV-positive Ethiopians
. According to the nation’s Central Statistical Agency, the price of food has increased 40 percent since last year. The situation has been particularly devastating for those with HIV, as poor nutrition weakens the immune system and “hastens the development of HIV into AIDS.” For those on antiretrovirals, malnutrition reduces the treatment’s effectiveness and increases its toxicity to the body. As Gideon Cohen of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) explained, antiretroviral treatment “can’t work if people aren’t eating enough.”
The consequences extend far beyond HIV-positive individuals themselves, however. For infected mothers who have been advised against breastfeeding, purchasing milk or formula drastically increases household expenses and is often unaffordable. In addition, HIV augments adults’ energy requirements by 10-30 percent. Without sufficient nutrition, it becomes difficult for these individuals—who constitute almost eight percent of Ethiopia’s urban population—to work and provide for their families, undermining food security even further. So as the current food crisis threatens the lives and livelihoods of the HIV-positive in Ethiopia, it also increases the rest of the population’s susceptibility to the virus and other illnesses.
Unfortunately, this problem is not a new one. At a 2006 Wilson Center event, Jordan Dey, director of the U.S. Relations Office at WFP, said, “Hunger weakens immune systems, increases vulnerability to disease, and creates a platform for disability.” A Wilson Center On the Hill event today from 12:00 noon to 1:15 p.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building will examine what the United States can do to relieve the global food crisis.
According to PlusNews, WFP’s HIV/AIDS feeding programme in Ethiopia has exceeded its budget by 44 percent, and has had to borrow funds from other UN programmes. This alarming situation illustrates the severity of the situation in Ethiopia and calls not only for increased humanitarian aid, but also for mechanisms to ensure long-term food security. Nations will not be healthy, prosperous, and peaceful until their people are properly nourished and given the chance to develop to their full capacity.