A $1 million federal grant will fund a new Indiana Meals on Wheels program, providing “medically-tailored” meals to over 2,500 residents living with HIV. Multiple findings suggest that a healthy diet dramatically affects the prognosis and overall outcome for those living with HIV. The effectiveness of HIV drugs can also be dramatically impacted by diet, making when and what poz people eat critically important.
With the aim of improving the health of residents living with HIV, Indiana State Department of Health is teaming up with Meals on Wheels of Central Indiana to launch the new statewide meal program, Ryan’s Meals for Life. It was named after Ryan White, an Indiana teenager who became HIV-positive after a 1984 blood transfusion and then was barred from returning to school over AIDS fears.
The new effort was first sparked when the Indiana Meals on Wheels organization joined the Food is Medicine Coalition — which was initially founded as a resource for people battling AIDS before effective antiretrovirals were developed and changing one’s diet was one of the few options for poz folks to self-medicate. Since the 1980s, the food as medicine movement has expanded to serve more than 200 chronic diseases. In the beginnings of the epidemic, simply keeping food down could be a struggle for many people living with HIV, but now the focus is on maintaining a healthy body.
Ryan’s Meals for Life received the $1 million in funding via the state’s department of health, through a federal Ryan White Supplemental Award. The federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program provides grant funding for states and territories.
“This funding has allowed ISDH to be more innovative in its continued work to enhance the lives of those who are living with HIV,” HIV/STD/Hepatitis Division director Dennis Stover told local news station WEHT. “This groundbreaking program is something we’ve not had in Indiana before.”
Clients will receive food assistance via 17 agencies at 23 locations across Indiana that provide services to people living with HIV. Food recipients get to choose whether they receive hot or cold meals. If a client lives outside the Meals on Wheels delivery area, frozen meals will be prepared by Eskenazi Health (an Indianapolis-based health care provider) and shipped directly to their homes. Organizers say that the program has about 150 clients signed up as of early June, and they continue to receive about 10 new clients per day. In addition, the organization’s care coordinators will work in tandem with each client’s physician or specialist to ensure that their diet aligns with their health care needs.
Meals on Wheels will keep track of each client’s data, including HIV viral load, CD4 levels, weight, and appetite.
Staying healthy for people living with HIV is a balancing act that requires both effective antiretroviral medication and a healthy diet. People living with HIV who eat well are also more likely to adhere to their drug regimen, meaning this kind of program can improve poz people’s health outcomes while also reducing HIV transmissions.