Monday, December 1, 2008

Day 1: Hunger and AIDS in America

So here goes, today I began my food stamp diet. Today also marks World AIDS Day, a time to reflect on and increase attention and support to address the HIV / AIDS pandemic. The two issues, HIV/AIDS and hunger, are inexplicably linked, both thriving on economic fault lines amongst the most marginalized.

These issues come to a head in Atlanta's westside neighborhood known as Bluff. 98% of the population is African American. More than 40% live below the federal poverty line of $17,170 (the income threshold for a family of three). Many of these families are supported by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The AIDS burden is heavy in this community. More than 68% of Georgia's reported AIDS cases are in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. African Americans represent 79% HIV cases and 77% of new AIDS diagnoses according to the Georgia Department of Human Resources.

Hunger and malnutrition is a major challenge for people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA). Healthcare costs often push PLWHA deeper into poverty. Low-income HIV-positive people are too often forced to choose between paying for their lifesaving medications and the nutritious diet that will allow the medications to work. (Many medications also require a full stomach before taking them). Furthermore, HIV/AIDS treatment often results in drastic weight loss due to their causing excessive vomiting and/or diarrhea. Adequate nutrition helps to keep the immune system strong thus enhancing the body’s ability to fight opportunistic infections. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago has great information on the link between Nutrition and AIDS.

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