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Nutritional key in fighting HIV

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After testing HIV positive, Harriet Kiiza lost the will to live. She would go without food for several days. Subsequently, she lost a lot of weight and became sickly, with recurrent diarrhea, fevers and cough. Kizza says it was not until her mother took her to seek treatment that she realized the damage she was causing to her health. Before she was started on treatment, she was counseled.

The counselor emphasized the importance of proper nutrition for someone living with HIV like her. In addition to antiretroviral therapy, proper nutrition is important in order to counter the effects of HIV on the body and to enhance the effectiveness of the medicine.

Dr Violet Nabatte, an HIV specialist at Mildmay Uganda (an HIV/AIDS service based in Kampala), says: “Having a chronic disease affects the functioning of the body. Therefore, it must be provided with the appropriate nutrients so that it does not break down.

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Defence system

Samali Namukose, a senior nutritionist at the health ministry, adds that HIV impairs the body’s natural defence system, making one vulnerable to various infections. She notes that malnutrition leads to impairment of the immune system, worsens the effects of HIV and, thus, leads to rapid progression of the condition.

Dr Nabatte explains that people living with HIV and are on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) need energy to meet the increased body requirements. Ideally, the meals should be balanced (have variety of foods such as energy-giving (carbohydrates), bodybuilding (proteins); foods that boost immunity (vitamins) in addition to fats and minerals. Nabatte says in addition to the three major meals, a person living with HIV should have a snack in the midmorning and in the afternoon.

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This could be a cup of porridge with milk or a serving of fruits. Namukose says ARVs can predispose one to anaemia (low blood levels). This makes it important for one to eat foods that are rich in iron, which helps to promote production of blood. Such foods include green leafy vegetables such as spinach. To prevent anaemia, one is also advised to deworm every six months. Namukose adds that if a person living with HIV is malnourished, it is advisable that they are given special foods.

She says sometimes, a doctor will recommend readyto-use therapeutic feeds such as K-Mix 2, a high energy food, developed by UNICEF. In addition, those with medical complications resulting from acute severe malnutrition are managed in hospital and given formula with enough nutrients to help the individual gain energy.