"While this was a pilot study, these results prove the concept that improving food insecurity and alleviating poverty can affect HIV clinical outcomes," said the trial's co-primary investigator Sheri Weiser, associate professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco in the US.
Food insecurity increases the risk of becoming infected with HIV and food insecure people with HIV are less able to take anti-HIV therapies, make clinic visits, and have poorer nutritional status.
Together, those issues make treating and preventing HIV more difficult, leading to sicker patients and more deaths.
In turn, once someone is infected with HIV, food insecurity gets worse due to loss of economic activity and productivity, loss of social support due to HIV stigma and the costs of medical care.
The trial, conducted over one year in the Nyanza region in Kenya, enrolled 72 participants at one facility for the intervention group and 68 at the other facility for the control group.
Participants were HIV positive individuals between 18 and 49 years old on anti-HIV therapy and all had access to surface water for irrigation and land.
Participants in the intervention arm, who received agricultural and financial support, were able to increase the quantity and quality of food consumed.
At the same time, they had strengthened immunity and their rate of viral suppression increased by about one half.
In contrast, the rate of suppression fell for those in the control arm.
"HIV/AIDS and food insecurity are intertwined in a vicious cycle, with each increasing vulnerability to and exacerbating the severity of the other," Weiser explained.
The results of the trial appeared online in the journal AIDS.