Dealing with HIV

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By: Aneela Qureshi

HIV is a virus that attacks cells in the immune system. Immune system is nature defense system that protects against various diseases. The virus destroys a type of white blood cell in the immune system called a T-helper cell, and makes copies of itself inside these cells. The common Symptoms of HIV are fever, coughing, itching, and difficulty in breathing or swallowing and chronic diarrhea. In Pakistan, it is the most prevalent disease and its death toll has been steadily increased since 1987. Reportedly, 100, 000 individuals in Pakistan are living with HIV/AIDS, there are only 15, 370 documented individuals suffering from this illness. The data from 2005 to 2015 in Pakistan, the number of HIV/AIDS infections has been increasing at an alarming rate. The number of reported infections in Pakistan increased from 8, 360 to 45, 990 cases, the highest global average increase of 17.6% in history. There are many factors that are contributing factors to spreading HIV/AIDS virus in Pakistan, and these factors are greater challenge for healthcare clinicians to fight the epidemic. Major reasons for this high population growth include lack of family planning and lack of use of contraceptives. Due to lack of education and cultural stigmas related to family planning, the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS becomes extremely difficult in the country.

HIV is a slow-acting virus that may take years to produce illness in a person.  During this period, an HIV-infected person’s defense system is badly impaired, and other viruses, bacteria and parasites take advantage of this “opportunity” to further weaken the body and cause various illnesses, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and oral thrush.  That’s why the infections and cancers seen in HIV-infected individuals are called “opportunistic”.

When a person starts having opportunistic infections, he/she has AIDS.  The amount of time it takes from HIV infection to become full-blown AIDS depends on the general health and nutritional status before and during the time of HIV infection.  The average time for an adult is approximately ten year. There is no cure of HIV/AIDS. Although there are certain drugs like anti retrovirus (ARV) which is known to attack the virus inside and slows down its replication. But unfortunately, the treatments are not affordable or accessible.

Nutrition and HIV are strongly related to each other. The major problem in HIV patients is impaired immune system as a result they become Malnourished. Malnutrition leads to weaken immune system and worsen the effect of HIV and ultimately leads to rapid progression to AIDS.

It is very important that the patient suffering from HIV/AIDS gets proper nutrition. Good Nutrition increases the resistance against many infections inside the body thus improves immune system, improves overall health and protect against diseases.  The common reason of Malnutrition in HIV patients are due to reduced food intake and have difficulty eating; thus they eat less and fail to meet their dietary requirements. Poor absorption of nutrients, changes in Metabolism, chronic infections and illness, Anorexia, Diarrhea and fever, Nausea/vomiting and Anemia are most common problems HIV patients. Nutritional management is important to curb the common problems in HIV patients. Adequate consumption of Macronutrients and Micronutrients are important.

Nutritional practice plays an important role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  A HIV infected person already has an impaired immune system. A balances and healthy diet can help to maintain the proper functioning of the immune system and provides required energy, protein and micronutrients. The following suggestions are provided as general principles in terms of nutritional needs of HIV affected populations.

An active non-HIV-infected adult requires approximately 2070 kcal/day. An HIV-infected adult requires 10 to 15 percent more energy per day (or approximately 400 additional kcal for men and 300 kcal for women). Protein needs: A non-HIV-infected man requires about 57 grams/day of protein and a woman requires 48 grams/day. An HIV-infected adult needs approximately 50 to 100 percent more protein for a total of 85 grams/day for men and 72 grams/day for women.

Another nutritional strategies include eating small and frequent meals throughout the day, eat variety of food means including from all food groups, and incorporate legumes, beans, pulses, whole grains in daily diet. Their diet must include body building foods and body protective foods (Proteins and Minerals). Food must be rich in micro-nutrients like Vitamin A, B C and D.  And Minerals such as iron, zinc and iron. These Minerals are found in Help the body absorb and utilize protein and carbohydrates; Help to fight infections and to digest and absorb other nutrients; Can be found in dark green, leafy vegetables (such as collard greens, cassava and potato leaves, spinach, pumpkin leaves and cabbage); and yellow and orange fruits and vegetables (such as mango, papaya (or paw paw), sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, tomato, avocado, oranges, lemons and bananas).  Daily physical activity is very important to maintain healthy lifestyle. Activity improves appetite, develops muscle, reduces stress, increases energy and helps maintain overall physical and emotional health.  Social and everyday activities such as walking, cleaning and collecting firewood or water are important. People should be encouraged to be active and continue with their daily routine as long as they are physically able to do so. Apart from nutritional guidelines, there is a dire need of good hygiene practices that include Proper food handling. Washing vegetables and fruits and rinse them properly. Do not contaminate raw and ready to cook food. Animal products should kept separate from plant based foods. Meat products should be cooked until well done. Thoroughly wash utensils and surface area where food is to be cooked and prepared. Do not cook when your hands are bruised or got injury or any infection. Boil drinking water for 5-10 mints to kill all germs. Maintain proper storage capacity for foods. Keep hot and cold products separate. Put leftovers in refrigerator. These general handling practices can be helpful in protection against illness.  At last, my message would be that immediate attention should be given to any illness or infection reported by the patient. Quick attention to early signs of illness can prevent further damage to the body.

The writer is a lifestyle consultant in a Private clinic based in Rawalpindi. She can be approached via email:[email protected]