Good nutrition is crucial for the long-term health and well-being of people living with HIV and Aids. This is the view of 32-year-old Hector Skosana, who has embraced a healthy diet on his journey with the inflammatory disease.
Skosana, who lives in Soweto, Johannesburg, says, “Eating healthy is always associated with being expensive but as someone who is living with HIV, for me, eating healthy doesn’t need to cost me a fortune.”
While he smokes, he tries to limit his cigarette intake because it is an unhealthy and expensive habit. “I make sure I eat my fruits and vegetables which helps maintain my skin and boosts my immune system.”
Skosana is among the 7.7 million South Africans living with HIV/Aids. In 2018, Stats SA estimated that 13.1% of the country’s population had HIV – a virus that attacks the body’s immune system.
Proper medical care
A Western Cape infectious diseases specialist, Dr Jantjie Taljaard, confirms that good nutrition can be life-giving for people living with the disease. He tells Health For Mzansi, “HIV has now become what we call a chronic disease; very much the same as diabetes or high blood pressure because it is treatable – it is not curable.”
Today, on the commemoration of World Aids Day, research reflect on the global response to the pandemic. While there is no effective cure for HIV, it can be controlled with proper medical care.
Researchers agree that most people can get the virus under control within as little as six months. However, to life a productive and healthy life, they need to watch what they eat.
“There is no point in telling people who live under the breadline to go to Woolworths to buy healthy food,” says Taljaard. “We need appropriate healthy dietary education and ideas for people who can only afford to buy three to four different kinds of foods (staples).
“Food insecurity and poverty has a negative effect and not only exposes young women to increased risks of HIV continuing and progressing and not getting better or the inability of taking medication.”
In Bloemfontein in the Free State, a student and HIV activist, Tebogo Mothoana, tells Health For Mzansi he has had to re-evaluate his lifestyle choices since his diagnosis.
“I knew I had to make changes, no matter how unpleasant they were,” says Mothoana. “I had to give up a lot of things, including drinking and smoking, which was something my doctors advised me to do because I was also diagnosed with tuberculosis at the time.”
Mothoana also started exercising. “I ended up joining the gym because the doctors warned me that the treatment would cause me to gain weight, so it was critical that I adopt a healthy lifestyle, including jogging, to keep my health in check.”
Healthy living has now become second nature to him.
“It is critical to include water in your diet because water helps regulate and maintain our health.”
Tips for living with HIV/Aids
Meanwhile registered dietician Ashleigh Carada says for people who are living with HIV, it is important to have a nutritious diet that will boost their immune system. “Eating a lot of orange vegetables that contain vitamin C, getting enough protein and a variety of plants is important in maintain your diet.”
Moderate exercise is also important, but it is important to listen to your body and also get good rest when you need it. Carada shares a few tips for living and eating well if you are living with HIV/Aids:
- Be mindful of your alcohol intake which can disturb the treatment you are taking.
- Exercise is important but it is also important to get enough rest.
- Go for regular blood tests to see how you are doing.
- Living with HIV can be stressful. Your mental health comes first. Ensure that you have all the support you need.
- With Covid-19, ensure that you are also taking immune boosters, especially vitamin D.