File photo: African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town – Poor nutrition and food insecurity are potential barriers to elderly people living with HIV in Langa and Khayelitsha taking antiretroviral treatment (ART) effectively.

This is according to a recent study funded by the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security(CoE) and puts the spotlight on people older than 50 living with HIV and how food insecurity affects their adherence to ART and their access to health care.

The research also highlights the need to explore the messaging that older people receive from providers about food and the interaction or need for food, and whether the messaging is adequately tailored to older people living with HIV and their ability to access sufficient food.

University of theWestern Cape (UWC) Professor Lucia Knight, who is the project leader of the study, said their research was the first to explore food insecurity and hunger among older South Africans living with HIV, and the way in which this interacted with ART access and adherence.

“By focusing on older persons in an urban setting, the study aims to fill a critical gap and provide essential insights on older South Africans’ experiences with HIV.

“The study shows that food or the lack thereof is a significant theme in older people’s lives.

"They think about it a lot and are concerned about the way in which access to food may influence their ability to take and the side-effects of medications (including ART, as well as medications for other co-morbid conditions),” she said.

Knight said studying older people living with HIV showed additional challenges, notably with non-communicable diseases, where medications often have to be taken with food.

“The likely presence of non-communicable diseases may further complicate their ability to access the resources they need and take care of their health.

“Therefore, it is very important to understand and explore how this group of people negotiate and ensure they have sufficient access to food.

“The initial findings show that old age pensions (available to those over 60) and, in some cases, disability grants are key to ensuring the food security of older people living with HIV, and also in supporting their families,” she said.

While the importance of these social grants for health and well-being of people living with HIV has emerged in results before, the role they play in the lives of older people living with HIV has not previously been adequately explored, particularly in terms of access to sufficient and quality food, Knight added.

The research is a collaborative effort between UWC and Professor Enid Schatz, head of health sciences at the University of Missouri, and falls under the CoE's Plates research.