Accelerate mental healthcare in fight against HIV

Friday, April 16th, 2021 00:00 |
World Health Organisation. Photo/Courtesy

Dr Jeldah Nyamache

Recently, media aired news of uncertainty in the supply of life-saving anti-retroviral drugs.

This, compounded by other present realities such as the unrelenting Covid-19 pandemic and harsh economic times, is devastating because hundreds of thousands of lives depend on the medication.

HIV continues to be a major global public health challenge. According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 38 million people were living with the virus in 2019 and 690,000 lives were lost due to the same in that year.

At personal levels, most of us know someone who has been affected directly or indirectly by the virus. 

Attention has majorly been on the physical health impacts of the disease with little being given to the mental health effects.

Like with any other chronic illness, a diagnosis of HIV is likely to have a huge emotional impact.

It challenges one’s sense of well-being and can complicate pre-existing disorders including mental health disease. 

Neglected mental health in people living with HIV substantially predisposes them to stress which in turn weakens the immune system among other problems.

Poor mental health affects quality of life and can stop one from seeking healthcare, adhering to treatment and continuing care.

One of the commonest mental conditions that people living with HIV face is depression.

A recent study by UNAids across 38 countries revealed the significant prevalence of 15 per cent in adults and 25 per cent in adolescents of depression among people living with HIV.

Other problems that often face this group include anxiety, mood and personality disorders.

They range from mild to severe in the symptoms and easily affect a person’s day-to-day life.

Many are unable to cope hence they break down and in worst case scenarios, incidents of homicide and suicide have been reported. 

On the other hand, people living with mental health problems can also be at high risk of getting HIV.

These risks are occasioned by low access to information and knowledge of HIV; psychoactive substance use especially injecting drug use; risky sexual behaviour and sexual abuse. 

In view of this, health experts should normalise screening, diagnosis and management of mental health-related issues in clients as they present.

Primary healthcare providers should be trained to recognise and manage common mental health challenges in time.

This will contribute to the overall wellbeing, which helps the people affected to live in fulfillment and get good treatment results.  

Further, increased awareness on mental health and HIV is crucial. Normalising discussions, informing and reassuring people that many mental health conditions are treatable will help them get a positive attitude as well as fight stigma. 

The aspirational efforts to end the HIV epidemic will be difficult to achieve without health experts addressing the significant mental health challenges associated with it.

All health facilities should endeavour to integrate structured mental health programmes that are accessible, affordable and tailored to meet the unique needs of the clients. — The writer is a family practitioner — [email protected]

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