July 23, 2010

DAI Staff Advocate Nutrition, Livelihoods at International AIDS Conference

Helping people affected by HIV/AIDS goes far deeper than delivering medicine. Providing jobs, improving nutrition, and supplying reliable information can reduce suffering and help prevent the spread of the virus, DAI experts emphasized this week at the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria.

Activists, scientists, program implementers, and policy makers used much of the conference to focus on universal access to HIV treatment, rather than nonmedical HIV/AIDS issues, said Colleen Green, DAI’s Technical Area Manager for HIV/AIDS & Livelihoods.

“Universal access is an ambitious and laudable goal but, in a resource-constrained world, an immense challenge,” Green said. “Livelihoods approaches provide opportunities for people on antiretroviral therapy to eat better, earn money, and strengthen themselves and their households, while smart information campaigns enlighten people and change behavior in high-risk locales.”

Green and Mulat Yiman, a DAI agronomist and Deputy Chief of Party of the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Urban Gardens Program for HIV-Affected Women and Children in Ethiopia, presented posters describing two DAI projects: the urban gardens program and the Market Access, Trade and Enabling Policies Project (MATEP) in Zambia.

While DAI salutes initiatives to deliver antiretroviral therapies (ARTs) to all who need them, the medications can cause serious side-effects such as diarrhea, nausea, and nutritional imbalance. A diet including kale, spinach, carrots, and other vegetables, which are grown by HIV/AIDS-affected people as part of the urban gardens program, is far more beneficial than a diet dominated by the flat bread staple food of Ethiopia.

“Nutrition is a basic necessity for HIV-affected and -infected families,” Yiman said. “The very success of ARTs often depends on the availability of nutritious food in the household.”

Since September 2008, nearly 14,000 households—including 43,600 orphans and vulnerable children—have enlisted in the USAID-funded project, which now operates in 12 Ethiopian cities.

In Zambia, MATEP delivered information about HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it, operating through workplaces where HIV/AIDS has had an impact on the bottom line. The project, funded by USAID and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, delivered prevention messages that reached more than 1.1 million people and trained more than 6,000 awareness educators, including 39 trainers of trainers. The cost: slightly more than $1 per beneficiary, spent mostly on producing high-quality brochures in local languages.