WASH Journalists handout on WASH and AIDS

AIDS patient in Nigeria

                                                                     By Babatope Babalobi

The challenges facing people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV) are numerous; lack of safe drinking water, appropriate sanitation and hygiene education are just a few. In countries where antiretroviral drug therapy is keeping PLHIV well enough to resist most other life-threatening opportunistic infections, they are still dying from diarrhea.

  • Every year over 2.8 million people die from AIDS. Over 33 million people live with HIV, most in low- and middle-income countries including West Africa.
  • Improved nutrition and food security reduces susceptibility to diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
  • Proper nutrition is a key aspect to maintain the health of PLHIV taking antiretroviral drug therapy.
  • Diarrhea blocks nutrient absorption creating a cycle of poor nutrition among PLHIV.
  • People living with HIV/AIDS and others with compromised immune systems, are more prone to common illnesses and diseases such as diarrhea. As such, access to improved sanitation and water supply is essential to the overall health of people living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Opportunistic infections, resulting from water and sanitation related diseases and immune suppression in people living with HIV can accelerate the progression of HIV to AIDS. The frequency of those infections is closely tied to the level of water and sanitation services available to households affected by HIV/AIDS as well as the hygiene practices of household members.
  • Diarrheal disease and various types of skin diseases are common secondary (or ‘opportunistic’) infections.[
  • Households caring for PLHIV with advanced illness may also require a greater quantity of water than other households for medicines, bathing and laundry. This adds to the existing burden on caregivers to collect water

Solutions that work

  • Improved water supply and sanitation reduces susceptibility to and severity of HIV/AIDS and other major diseases.
  • Providing access to a safe, reliable and sufficient water supply and basic sanitation is essential for both the people living with HIV/AIDS and their caretakers who are often relatives, friends and neighbors.
  • Improved access to a sustainable water supply lessens the risk of sexual violence, a risk factor for HIV, experienced during water collection.
  • One study of people living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda found that the presence of a latrine reduced the risk of diarrheal disease by 31%.
  • Water and sanitation services which are located in close proximity to HIV-affected households can have important labor saving effects, reducing the burden of caregiving and allowing more time for other activities, including school and income generation.
  • Potable drinking water is often used to soften foods, making them more palatable for the chronically ill

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