Background: Although the last decade has seen increased access to antiretroviral therapy across the developing world, widespread food insecurity and undernutrition continue to compromise an effective response to the AIDS epidemic. Limited evidence exists on the potential benefit of food security and nutrition interventions to people living with HIV (PLHIV).
Methods: We capitalized on an existing intervention to PLHIV in Uganda and conducted a prospective quasi-experimental study evaluating the impact of a monthly household food basket, provided to food insecure antiretroviral therapy–naive PLHIVs for 12 months. The outcomes of interest measured at baseline and follow-up were nutritional status [body mass index; mid-upper arm circumference and hemoglobin (Hb) concentrations], disease severity (CD4 count), and 2 measures of food security: diet quality (Individual Dietary Diversity Score) and food access (Household Food Insecurity Access Scale). We used difference-in-difference propensity score matching to examine the impact of food assistance.
Results: Over 12 months, food assistance significantly increased body mass index by 0.6 kg/m2 (P < 0.01) and mid-upper arm circumference by 6.7 mm (P < 0.05). We found no impact on CD4 count, Hb concentrations, or Individual Dietary Diversity Score. Restricting the analysis to individuals with CD4 counts of greater than 350 cells per microliter, there were significant impacts on Hb concentrations (1.0 g/dL; P < 0.05). At the household level, food assistance increased the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale, by 2.1 points (P < 0.01).
Conclusions: This study demonstrates the potential for food assistance programming to be part of the standard of care for PLHIV in areas of widespread food insecurity.