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A World of Contrasts: Thanksgiving and Food Security

As we enter the holiday season in the US and around the world, I think about the lucky families, my own included, who will enjoy bountiful tables of delicious food as part of their celebrations. In the US, many families and friends will come together around the Thanksgiving table this Thursday to give thanks and enjoy this food-centered holiday. In fact, just last week at IntraHealth’s office in Chapel Hill, staff celebrated with our annual pot-luck Thanksgiving lunch. Two tables were laden with rich desserts alone.

Yet we know for many people around the world, including in the US, food is far from plentiful. As we travel to resource-poor regions of the world for our work, the contrast is very clear. There is a growing food security dilemma, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Did you know that, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, food prices began to soar when the global recession took hold in 2007 and 2008, forcing many residents in sub-Saharan African countries to cut back on quality food and other necessities?

Global grain prices continue to climb. The negative impact on countries that depend upon imported cereals to feed their people is real. We know that food prices are linked to a variety of factors ranging from import dependence and shortfalls in domestic production to natural disasters. In fact, one bad storm or cyclone in Madagascar can cut off the basic food supply flow in a matter of days, affecting the general population of the entire Indian Ocean island nation.

Food Security and HIV/AIDS

No group, however, is more affected than the most-at-risk populations: those people who are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, infectious diseases, gender-based violence, and undernutrition. HIV-positive infants and children depend upon adults to keep them alive with breast milk (through correct infant-feeding practices), supplemental foods, and a turn at the communal bowl that leaves little more than a handful of millet after their fathers, uncles, and bigger siblings have eaten their full.

Food security is an increasing need for HIV-positive people and their affected families. HIV-positive adults with weight loss and low micronutrient levels are at increased risk for developing AIDS. Today, leading global health organizations work with ministries of health around the world to promote nutrition programming for HIV, particularly programs that prioritize the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

But in spite of the enormous success of these programs, we must do more to make sure the continuum of care for people living with HIV/AIDS is linked with sustained nutrition supplementation. We need locally sustainable food-security programs to protect the life and well-being of people living with HIV/AIDS, particularly HIV-positive children—many of whom are orphans or living in households with HIV-positive family members.

The 2012 AIDS Conference held in Washington, D.C., developed a vision to “turn the tide together” to dramatically curb new infections, treat 15 million people by 2015, and continue life-saving research on a cure and a vaccine. But from my perspective, we need more emphasis on the food security dilemma, particularly the nutritional needs of all children affected by HIV/AIDS.

IntraHealth believes in a world where all people have the best possible opportunity for health and well-being. As the global champion of health workers, IntraHealth does not explicitly mention food security in our core mission, and food security may seem like an outlier to the work we do. But it is fundamental to achieving our mission and vision. Somehow, some way, we must consider new avenues with our committed partners and stakeholders to meaningfully contribute to stopping the rising tide of food insecurity—a situation that threatens all, but particularly the most vulnerable children and others across the globe.