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Hunger and HIV: a deadly combination

As we mark World AIDS Day, the global food crisis is impacting heavily on HIV and AIDS levels in developing countries.

Halima Salim is a 28-year-old resident of Masasi district in Mtwara region in Tanzania. When she was declared HIV positive, she was still mourning the death of her husband and her baby twins.

Lack of food

Concern and other NGOs have made anti-retroviral (ARV) medication available in Halima’s village. Thanks to this medication, her health is now better. Like so many others living with HIV, however, Halima is also suffering from lack of food.

After taking these medicines, you need to eat a lot, and I don’t have money to buy food. Today, I worked at the mashamba [farm] for the whole day without eating anything. My children are suffering a lot.

Difficult choices and challenges

Halima’s situation is not unusual. The HIV epidemic largely overlaps with people already experiencing food shortages. In many countries, the poorest families are being forced to choose between food for the household and ARVs for loved ones.

AIDS in a time of hunger poses additional challenges for affected people. As food prices rise, less nutritious food is consumed. For people who are already sick, this can have detrimental health effects.

Preventable problems?

Over 5,700 people still die from AIDS-related illness every day and there are 25,000 deaths daily from hunger-related causes. The tragedy of this is that, with effective interventions, both hunger and HIV are very preventable public health problems.

Food is the first medicine

Efforts to mitigate the effects of HIV are being compromised by the food crisis, yet food is still the first medicine and lives depend on it. Solutions that take into account issues of poverty, gender inequality and food shortages are essential in the HIV and AIDS response.

Concern is grateful for the long-standing support of the Irish people and the Irish government in dealing with these issues.

Halima’s life in Tanzania, and the lives of her children and many others, depend, on an adequate and timely response.