An estimated 11.6 million people are struggling for basic nutrition and sanitation in the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa – and experts have warned that this situation could have a serious effect on the health of people undergoing HIV treatment. The United Nations has said that 750,000 people could die if global assistance fails to meet the required target (so far, only 62% of the total has been contributed).
The worst drought in 60 years has led to large-scale food scarcity, which is a well-known barrier to antiretroviral (ARV) effectiveness. ARVs increase the appetite and a lack of food has been known to worsen the side-effects. Additionally, HIV-positive mothers may have to feed their children with a mixture of solid food and breast milk, thereby increasing the risk of transmission.
The number of sexual assault and rape cases also increases in refugee camps as regular societal and legal protection systems break down. With that, the risk of new HIV infections also rises. While post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may be available at some places, most rapes go unreported and HIV prevention awareness is low. Many women are also forced to turn to sex work to survive and procure food for their families, and the lack of condoms increases the chances of HIV infection.
Thousands of migrants will also face problems with adherence – the stigma attached to HIV makes it hard for them to approach unknown healthcare providers for services. Additionally, the already-limited health services are dealing with the ongoing starvation crisis and HIV treatment services are often not prioritized at such times.
You can read a UNAIDS feature story on this situation as well as an article on the IRIN website. The issue was also mentioned as one of the stories to follow during UN week in a blog post written by Mark Leon Goldberg, managing editor of the UN Dispatch blog.
Tell us – what do you think needs to be done to tackle a crisis such as this one? Africa has seen millions of people die from HIV infection, and the numbers are often exacerbated due to socio-political tumult in the region. How can we work towards a long-term solution to this problem, to try and limit the impact ofthe HIV epidemic? (Note: The Horn of Africa Initiative is one such effort, which has been working to “halt and reverse the spread and address the impact of HIV and AIDS in the Horn of Africa region.”)
[Content that is linked from other sources is for informational purposes and should not construe a Mapping Pathways position.]