The World Health Organization’s (WHO) antiretroviral therapy (ART) guidelines have generally been adopted rapidly and with high fidelity by countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus far, however, WHO has not published specific guidance on nutritional care and support for (non-pregnant) adults living with HIV despite a solid evidence base for some interventions. This offers an opportunity for a case study on whether national clinical guidelines in sub-Saharan Africa provide concrete recommendations in the face of limited guidance by WHO. This study, therefore, aims to determine if national HIV treatment guidelines in sub-Saharan Africa contain specific guidance on nutritional care and support for non-pregnant adults living with HIV.
We identified the most recent national HIV treatment guidelines in sub-Saharan African countries with English as an official language. Using pre-specified criteria, we determined for each guideline whether it provides guidance to clinicians on each of five components of nutritional care and support for adults living with HIV: assessment of nutritional status, dietary counseling, micronutrient supplementation, ready-to-use therapeutic or supplementary foods, and food subsidies.
We found that national HIV treatment guidelines in sub-Saharan Africa generally do not contain concrete recommendations on nutritional care and support for non-pregnant adults living with HIV.
Given that decisions on nutritional care and support are inevitably being made at the clinician-patient level, and that clinicians have a relative disadvantage in systematically identifying, summarizing, and weighing up research evidence compared to WHO and national governments, there is a need for more specific clinical guidance. In our view, such guidance should at a minimum recommend daily micronutrient supplements for adults living with HIV who are in pre-ART stages, regular dietary counseling, periodic assessment of anthropometric status, and additional nutritional management of undernourished patients. More broadly, our findings suggest that countries in sub-Saharan Africa look to WHO for guidance in translating evidence into clinical guidelines. It is, thus, likely that the development of concrete recommendations by WHO on nutritional interventions for people living with HIV would lead to more specific guidelines at the country-level and, ultimately, better clinical decisions and treatment outcomes.