Sheri Weiser, corresponding author of a study in PLoS Medicine on the link between food insecurity and high risk sexual behaviour, featured in the PLoS collection on poverty, has been interviewed by the Kaiser Family Foundation about her research.
The interview provides an excellent overview of the study, which concludes that for women in Botswana and Swaziland food insecurity is strongly associated with the likelihood of engaging in unprotected sex, the exchange of sex for food or other resources, and lack of control in their sexual relations.
Sheri Weiser explains that factors such as socioeconomic status and education cannot in themselves account for the results:
“Overall what we are talking about here [are] people who had to make impossible choices. They had to make trade offs for instance… between dying now from starvation and potentially dying later from HIV and income and education just don’t adequately capture those complexities.”
Whilst these issues are most salient in Africa, the continent with the highest prevalence of HIV and malnutrition, Sheri Weiser argues they have resonance across the world:
“We’re talking about pretty much anywhere where women are dependent on men for food and resources and where women lack power in society and their relationships. We’re even seeing some similar patterns in some very preliminary work that we’re doing amongst homeless and marginally housed individuals in the US.”
The tendency of the West to focus efforts on the individual through educational and information campaigns has arguably neglected the structural problems (such as poverty and food insecurity) that put people at risk of HIV. The study suggests that hunger alleviation and the fight against AIDS cannot be considered independently. Sheri Weiser concludes the interview by arguing that vast scaling up in the funding to alleviate hunger is needed; the partnering of sustainable hunger relief and AIDS organisations is essential; and that an understanding of underpinnings of gender discrimination in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere is requried in order to change the direction of the epidemic.
A perspective article by Nigel Rollins on the research was also published as part of the poverty collection. These articles appear in the Global Theme Issue on Poverty and Human Development organized in October by the Council of Science Editors.