Stakeholders drawn from different institutions, departments, and organisations Monday converged on the Paradise Suites Hotel to validate the study report on the situational analysis for nutrition activities in HIV/AIDs response in The Gambia organised by the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNAIDS.
Among the key findings of the report are that there was no system in place in the treatment centres visited to track the people living with HIV/AIDs and the support societies receiving the nutrition support but few of the implementing NGOs have nutrition-related monitoring and evaluating indicators included in their programmes; foods provided to people living with HIV by all actors are not based on either nutritional needs or based on selection criteria or clinical parameters; and food varieties are not usually communicated to the people living with HIV/AIDs(example varieties that can be made out of rice or beans) during food distribution activities at the treatment centres among others.
In the progress made, the findings among other things indicated that the government of The Gambia and key stakeholders have recognised the importance of nutrition and HIV/AIDs as indicated by the inclusion of nutrition-related issues in national policies, programmes and operational plans; establishment of sentinel sites in the country; and a number of NGOs including Action Aid The Gambia and partners in the field of nutrition and HIV/AIDs have produced communication materials for use at field level.
The findings also indicated an absence of an inbuilt mechanism for the assessment and distribution of the food commodities to people living with HIV who actually need the foods; inadequate funding; existence of information gap has been noted in the treatment centres; and absence of nutrition guidelines for service providers on nutrition assessment, evaluation and distribution of food to the people living with HIV.
The findings therefore recommended that the UN agencies such the WFP, WHO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, and UNAIDS need to support the country in formulating global recommendations; preparations, revision and dissemination of operational guideline and assessment tools; strengthening of human resources capacity and skills; and maintaining the focus on the integration of nutrition in the response to HIV and TB pandemic based on evidence and scientific findings.
Speaking at the opening of the forum, Vitoria Ginja, WFP representative in The Gambia dilated at length on the importance of nutrition to the wellbeing of HIV/AIDs patients. She said that WFP as a humanitarian body is very committed to addressing the need of HIV patients. However, she was quick to stress that WFP alone cannot do it all, and so needs the collaboration of all partners. She finally assured government and partners of WFP's willingness to collaborate.
For his part, Willy Mpoyi, the WFP regional adviser, HIV/AIDS, said HIV can cause people to be malnourished, and went on to assure that WFP will always give nutrition supplements which are necessary for HIV patients. He said that good nutrition can have positive impact on the lives of the affected people, but WFP cannot do it alone considering the huge amount of resources needed. He thanked the participants for attending the forum, while urging them to look into the findings critically for the betterment of all.
Nuha Ceesay, UNAIDs Country Officer, noted that The Gambia has over the years witnessed an increase in support of groups and people living with HIV/AIDS. He revealed that the country has 10 people living with HIV/AIDS support groups societies (GAMNASS) and MUTAPOLA were also established.
He stressed that food security and nutrition are fundamental to HIV malnutrition, and further revealed that there is emerging evidence that patients who begin antiretroviral therapy without adequate nutrition have lower survival rates. "Poor nutritional status may also increase the risk of HIV transmission from mother to child. Lack of food security constrains people's choices about work and education, and child feeding and rearing, and can lead to increased mobility for work," he added. Ceesay also explained that antiretroviral therapy may increase appetite, saying that it is possible to reduce some side effects and promote adherence to the therapy if some of the medicines are taken with food.
Officially declaring the forum open, Alieu Jammeh, the director of the National Aids Secretariat, urged participants to take the forum seriously, considering the importance of nutrition in the lives of the people living with HIV/AIDS. He also commended WFP and UNAIDS for organising the validation forum. He noted that once finalised, the report would become a very valuable input in reshaping the UN joint programme on AIDS, especially the future direction of the WFP input.