Food Shortages Pose Obstacles to HIV/AIDS Treatment in Haiti
Many HIV-positive people in Haiti face challenges in adhering to their antiretroviral drug regimens because of a lack of food throughout the country, IRIN/PlusNews reports. According to IRIN/PlusNews, antiretrovirals are more effective and cause fewer side effects when taken with food, and proper nutrition helps delay the progression of HIV. However, rising food prices, high poverty rates, a troubled agricultural sector and recent hurricanes have exacerbated existing food shortages and created challenges for HIV-positive people seeking treatment.
According to IRIN/PlusNews, more than 60% of Haitians live below the poverty line of less than $2 per day. The country's National Food Security Council reports that an estimated 2.7 million of the country's population of 9.2 million faced food shortages before the hurricanes this year, and an additional 800,000 people faced food shortages following the storms. Alan Isaac, program director at Catholic Relief Services, said the situation in Haiti was "already precarious because of the food prices and low agricultural production; the hurricanes just made it worse."
Reynold Grand Pierre of GHESKIO -- a non-governmental organization that supports HIV/AIDS treatment sites in Haiti -- said, "It's difficult to assure [antiretroviral] adherence without that food support." Michel Bertrand -- GHESKIO coordinator in Jacmel, Haiti -- added that antiretrovirals are "not the priority" for people with social and economic problems, who may skip drug consultations to attend food distributions. Gladys Lauture, founder of Espoir Anaise -- a charity that uses donations from the United Nations' World Food Program and Catholic Relief Services to distribute food to 6,500 people living with HIV/AIDS and their families -- said, "Treatment is available now. The strategy is to give them food to motivate them to get the treatment." Lauture estimates that the food distributed to HIV-positive people by Espoir Anaise reaches less than one-tenth of those in need of food assistance. Isaac agreed that many people living with HIV did not receive food aid even before the hurricanes. "People who are nutritionally compromised are going to die, whether they're on [antiretrovirals] or not," Isaac said.
According to UNAIDS figures, an estimated 2.2% of Haiti's population is HIV-positive (IRIN/PlusNews, 10/31).