Food insecurity among students living with HIV: Strengthening safety nets at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa
The HIV prevalence in South Africa among students at higher education institutions (HEIs) in 2008 was reported to be 3.4%, with the highest HIV prevalence found in the Eastern Cape Province. Students at these facilities are also increasingly affected by socioeconomic constraints that may impact on food security. Little is known about the impact of food insecurity on HIV-infected students in HEIs in South Africa. The purpose of this paper is to describe food insecurity and the nutritional status among HIV-infected students on the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University campuses in South Africa, as well as current initiatives to strengthen the safety nets for food-insecure students. This descriptive, cross-sectional survey was conducted among a convenience sample of known HIV-infected, registered students (n ¼ 63), older than 18 years of age and managed as part of the Campus Health Service antiretroviral therapy (ART) programme. Ethical approval for the study was obtained from the Research Ethics Committee (NMMU) and participants were included in the sample after providing written, informed consent. Findings indicate that food insecurity was common with more than 60% of the sample reporting food insecurity at the household level during the previous month. Of the sample, 51% were classified as being either overweight or obese. Although food insecurity did not contribute to weight loss in our sample, food-insecure students were more likely to consume inadequate amounts of vitamins and minerals, especially antioxidants that are important in supporting the immune system. Food insecurity has been identified as affecting the majority of HIV-infected students in this study, especially regarding their difficulty in accessing nutritious foods. As overweight and obesity also seem to threaten the health and future well-being of the students, appropriate management of the overweight individuals and those with obesity should be instituted in order to prevent the development of chronic diseases of lifestyle, thus allowing for a healthier more productive life. Current intervention strategies to strengthen food security have made inroads to improve access to healthier food options.
Keywords: food insecurity, nutrition, hunger, HIV, higher education institutions, safety nets