With the XVIII International AIDS Conference coming to a close last month in Vienna, I decided to do a little research about why it is important for ELCA World Hunger to address diseases such as HIV/AIDS in its anti-hunger work. One study released during this conference led me to a lot of answers.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the findings of a study that explores the link between HIV and poverty in the United States. Researchers chose to focus on 23 major cities in the U.S., and left out people already at a high risk of HIV infection in order to get a better picture of how poverty and HIV are linked. What did they find? Those living in poverty have a higher risk of having HIV. The findings from this CDC study, according to a Wall Street Journal article, is “the strongest evidence yet of a link between poverty and HIV infection.”

The findings showed that for high-poverty urban areas in the United States, 2.1% of the population is infected with HIV. This may seem like a relatively small number, but this figure is 20 times as high as the rate of infection among low-risk populations in the overall population of the U.S. The reason for the increased rate of infection in highly impoverished areas is that those with low socio-economic statuses have less access to medical care. Without medical care, many people are unaware that they themselves are infected and are more likely to pass on the infection to others (Winslow, Ron, and Betsy McKay. “Study Looks at HIV and Poverty.” Wall Street Journal. 19 July 2010).

This study highlights why adressing diseases such as HIV/AIDS are important to the work of ELCA World Hunger. Hunger and disease have a cyclical relationship with each other. Hunger and poverty can lead to disease. Without adequate food and nutrition, our bodies are more vulnerable to disease and even when medicines are available, they become less effective. Without a living wage, resources to prevent and fight diseases are out of reach. Disease can also lead to hunger and poverty. If you are sick, you may be unable to work and take in an income. You may not be able to grow and provide food for yourself and your family. The cycle continues. By addressing hunger and poverty the root causes of disease can be addressed, and by addressing disease the root causes of hunger and poverty can be addressed.

ELCA World Hunger is doing important work around the issues of disease and poverty. For more information on the work of ELCA World Hunger with HIV and AIDS and Malaria, check out this website.  Also, if you wish to educate your congregation, campus or community about the connections between hunger and disease, check out this Hunger Education Toolkit .

-Allie Stehlin