The what, why and how of health and development

Improving food security can affect HIV outcomes

Providing financial and agricultural support to people living with HIV improves their bodies’ defences against the disease, according to a study that researchers say is the first to link agriculture with HIV outcomes.

Scientists say that patients with HIV who were given farm management training, microloans, and support using new technologies, saw an increase in the infection fighting white blood cells (CD4 T-cell). Their rate of viral suppression also increased by about one half.

The results of the study, carried out with 72 participants over the course of a year at two Family AIDS Care & Education Services (FACES) health facilities in Kenya’s Nyanza region, were released ahead of its publication in the journal AIDS.

In a separate control group of 68 people, who did not receive the farming support, both the CD4 cell counts and the rate of suppression fell.

The trial’s co-primary investigator Sheri D. Weiser, from the UCSF Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital, said: “While this was a pilot study, these results prove the concept that improving food insecurity and alleviating poverty can affect HIV clinical outcomes.”

“HIV/AIDS and food insecurity are intertwined in a vicious cycle, with each increasing vulnerability to and exacerbating the severity of the other. We have the biomedical tools to treat and prevent HIV, but we need interventions like this that combine healthcare with development, and address food insecurity, poverty and disempowerment if we are to achieve the UNAIDS goal of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.”

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