We are at a watershed. Knowledge of the devastating interactions between HIV/AIDS and food and nutrition security has been growing in recent years, but the crucial next step - of using this knowledge to improve and scale up effective actions - has yet to be taken. Much past work on the HIV/AIDS-hunger nexus has been undertaken in Sub-Saharan Africa where the risks and impacts are most common and most serious, and where there is more experience to build upon. But it is imperative that future work extends beyond Africa in order to be better prepared in other areas where such impacts may soon be experienced. South Asia for example is fertile terrain, both for the spread of the virus and for its damaging interactions with food and nutrition security.
There is an urgent need to bring researchers and practitioners together, from both Africa and Asia, to review what we have learnt, and what this means for future policy and programming in areas where HIV/AIDS and food and nutrition insecurity co-exist.
Research in this area has burgeoned in recent years but there remain some important gaps. We need to better understand how agricultural and other livelihood systems, policy and practice - in urban as well as rural areas -- contribute both to the spread, and to the impacts, HIV/AIDS. We need more longitudinal studies that capture the local dynamics of impact and response in different situations -- particularly focusing on the innovative responses of households and communities who are actively strengthening their own resistance and resilience. And we need more operational research in a structured learning-by-doing mode.
In order to come to grips with this new universe, and effectively fill these knowledge gaps, bridges need to be built between social scientists, epidemiologists, public health specialists, nutritionists and agricultural economists. Only in this way will the causes and consequences of HIV/AIDS be mapped in ways that build the evidence base, ultimately leading to more effective action.
When it comes to actions aimed at combating the HIV/AIDS-food insecurity nexus, the empirical base is still thin. Where organizations have launched actions that address these interactions, they have tended to be in isolation, and they are rarely monitored and evaluated.
The rationale for a more proactive and collaborative engagement by food and nutrition-relevant organizations, particularly agricultural organizations - in research and in action -- is thus clear.