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20 years on: nutrition and AIDS

Breda Gahan, Global HIV and AIDS Programme Advisor for Concern, discusses the reality of the HIV and AIDS epidemic in 2008.

"Communication" was the theme of the first World AIDS Day in 1988. 20 years on, and we now know that communication, as well as many other important elements, including good nutrition, are vital in the treatment and prevention of HIV and AIDS.

World AIDS Day, observed on 1 December each year, is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection.

Importance of nutrition

The impact of HIV and AIDS is reversing some of the hard-won improvements that have taken place in many of the world’s poorest countries. People are becoming more vulnerable to malnutrition, ill health and poverty, and by extension HIV.

Improving access to food is a key part in the prevention of HIV.

Deepest impact

The HIV epidemic is still outpacing the global response. Widespread issues, such as climate change and worsening economies, are compounding the problem and affecting the poorest people most. These people are at the highest risk. Recent studies have shown links between food scarcity and unprotected sex among poor women.


Are we listening to those affected? Are we actively engaging with their communities? Their voices need to be heard. They need to be part of the search for a solution.

Often, because of inequality and snobbery, the people living with HIV are excluded from this debate.

Small improvements

Over the past 20 years, there have been improvements and advancements made with nutrition. Many more people have more food – of better quality and diversity – than their parents' generation. Increased food production and supply has contributed significantly to this. Government responsibility and leadership in this area has made a difference in Europe and beyond.

However, for many people living in Africa in particular the situation persists. HIV and hunger are a part of their lives. Over the past 20 years improvements have been made – there are many more needed.