Healthy diet vital to living longer with HIV
-nutrition conference hears

Stabroek News
November 26, 2002

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Persons living with HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean can now get advice on their nutritional needs through a handbook prepared by the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI).

The easy to read guide was launched yesterday at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel at the start of a one-week conference for the institute.

‘Healthy eating for better living’ is the title of the book and it focuses mainly on assisting affected persons in eating better and also provides recipes for meals and beverages.

Public Service Minister, Dr Jennifer Westford and CFNI Director, Fitzroy Henry share a joke at the opening of the Conference of National Nutrition Co-ordinators yesterday at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel. (Ken Moore photo)

The book dubbed a ‘Manual on Nutrition and HIV/AIDS’, is one of two being produced under a project funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The other manual is for health care workers working with persons living with HIV/AIDS. The launching was held in collaboration with the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) and the Pan-American Health Organisation’s (PAHO’s) Caribbean Programme Co-ordinator (CPC) and was attended by nutrition co-ordinators from all 18 CFNI member countries.

The book gives explanations on topics such as: HIV/AIDS and the immune system; what is good nutrition; what does nutrition have to do with HIV/AIDS; planning a healthy diet; food safety and hygiene; coping with problems related to HIV/AIDS; and infants and children with HIV/AIDS.

Fitzroy Henry, Director of CFNI, in the preface to the book writes that though HIV/AIDS cannot be cured aggressive nutritional support can help extend a person’s life and contribute to its quality. He stresses that it is equally important to prolong and care for the lives of HIV+ persons as it is to prevent infection. It was noted that nutritional support is conspicuous by its absence in current approaches to comprehensive care in the region. “The absence deprives persons with HIV to strengthen their immune system, improve the effectiveness of drug treatment and, importantly, delay the progression of AIDS,’ Henry said.

In the chapter, ‘What does Nutrition Have to with HIV/AIDS?’, the book says that eating enough of the right food is important for everyone but even more important when one is infected since a person is at greater risk of developing health problems if they do not eat properly. “The right balance of food will help prevent weight loss and tiredness. The right balance will also improve the way you feel.” According to the book the relationship between HIV/AIDS and poor nutrition is cyclical. Poor nutrition due to poor food intake, increased nutrient usage by the body and loss of nutrients from the body all weaken the immune system, which in turn decreases the ability of the body to fight other infections. The weakened immune system results in repeated infections which can lead to poor nutrition and so the cycle continues.

Public Service Minister, Dr Jennifer Westford, in the feature address, said the theme of the conference was one which needed to be ventilated in the health sector. The minister said: “For too long this very important arm of the health sector has been placed on the backburner, I think these professionals are being taken for granted...”

She said because of the high cost of the retroviral drugs there was a need to turn to the first line of prevention and treatment and that was nutrition.

She pointed out that should one go into a hospital and pick out the record of an HIV+ person there would be little emphasis on nutrition.

The week-long training activities of CFNI include the planning of national programmes on Nutrition and AIDS for implementation when participants return home.

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