Good nutrition is very important to all people, whether or not they are living with HIV and AIDS. It requires the intake of a variety of foods from all of the six basic food groups considered in relation to the body’s dietary needs.
A healthy diet therefore provides adequate energy, and helps in maintaining a healthy weight, and does not contain excess fat, sugar, salt, or alcohol. Good nutrition combined with regular physical activity, is the cornerstone of good health, as anything short of this can lead to low immunity, increased susceptibility to diseases, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity.
However, when discussing Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) there is the need to consider nutrition as a key component to addressing some medical conditions such as wasting or thinness, (which is presents in very low weight), diarrhoea, lipid (fat) abnormalities and Tuberculosis (TB) among others, which often leads to fatalities, especially among children and Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV).
Again because HIV infection can lead to immune suppression, a patient may be at greater risk of food-borne illness, hence food safety and proper hygiene are also of great importance when it comes to preventing infection.
It is expected that in addressing HIV and AIDS in a holistic manner, proper nutritional guidelines be ensured in order to maintain energy and healthy immune systems of PLHIV.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that malnutrition contributes to more than one third of all child deaths, although it is rarely listed as the direct cause. It also results in higher morbidity and mortality among PLHIV, by compromising their immune systems making them susceptible to opportunistic infections.
Undernutrition also increases the risk of Tuberculosis (TB) especially in PLHIV, while it has been demonstrated that poor nutritional practice is a risk factor for progression from tuberculosis infection to active tuberculosis disease and that undernutrition at the time of diagnosis of active tuberculosis is a predictor of increased risk of death and tuberculosis relapse.
It said poor feeding practices, such as inadequate breastfeeding, offering the wrong foods, and not ensuring that the child gets enough nutritious food, contributes to malnutrition in especially orphans, children born to PLHIV as well as those living with the disease.
It attributed the high under nutrition rates to the lack of access to highly nutritious foods, especially in the present context of rising food prices.
Notwithstanding all these glaring facts about nutrition which is a critical item in the development status of a country, it has remained trapped in a “low priority cycle” in most sub-Saharan African countries including Ghana.
Reverend John Kwashie Azumah, the Leader of the Positive Minded Foundation, an HIV Support Group in an interview, urged government to come out with a clear policy strategy that tackles HIV in a more holistic manner.
He admitted that HIV and nutrition were like “bed fellows”, and that the absence of the latter, could have devastating consequences on PLHIV, adding that “since the virus attacks and destroy the immune system, it makes it harder for the body to fight off infections”.
Rev. Azumah, said in spite of the benefits of good nutrition in supporting the overall health of PLHIV including building their immune systems, weight, and ensuring better tolerance of HIV medicines, most PLHIV can barely afford a meal and this is preventing them from taking their Anti Retrovirals (ARVs) as they should, leading to relapses in their therapies and other complications.
A United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report, further estimates a global population of 1.8 million children under age 15 living with HIV as at 2015, and therefore links HIV and AIDS to nutrition.
This, it said was because infants born to mothers living with HIV, usually had poorer growth and higher morbidity and mortality compared to those born to mothers without the infection, exposing them to increased risks of malnutrition and weak immune system issues.
They suffer from severe acute malnutrition, which is the most extreme and visible form of under-nutrition and children with this deficiency have very low weight for their height and severe muscle wasting. They may also have nutritional oedema characterized by swollen feet, face and limbs.
To increase their chances of survival, these children need therapeutic foods to urgently treat malnutrition, combined with antiretroviral treatment to stop the disease from progressing.
It is for these reasons that the Government of Ghana has developed the National Nutrition Policy (NNP) to reposition nutrition as a cross-cutting issue and facilitate its integration and mainstreaming into all national development efforts.
Among the NPP’s objectives are seeks to ensure optimal nutrition of all Ghanaians throughout their lifecycles, increase coverage of high-impact nutrition-specific interventions that ensure optimal feeding, with special reference to maternal health and child survival, high coverage of nutrition-sensitive interventions to address the underlying causes of malnutrition, and to reposition nutrition as a priority multi-sectoral development issue in the country.
Good nutrition is crucial to cushion the of HIV and AIDS orphans. “The UNFPA’s success story, therefore lies with its partnership with the media, which has played active roles in advocacy in the reduction of maternal and child mortality, as well as Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health education over the years.
The UNFPA is an international development agency that promotes the rights of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. It also supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free from HIV and AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.
It spearheaded the development and launch of the African Union Demographic Dividend (DD) Roadmap and Strategic Roadmap for Harnessing Demographic Dividend in Ghana, which would focus on investing in the youth who currently constitute a majority of the population.
Some of the strategic steps would be to pursue employment-centred economic growth strategy that will ensure sustained employment creation, especially for the growing numbers of unemployed youth.
If these and the other existing policies and strategies to ensure healthy living, good health and wellbeing of Ghanaians and especially vulnerable groups are effectively implemented, the country’s development will turn to its right path.
By Christabel Addo
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