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Govt Urged to Integrate Mental Health, HIV Services

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According to UNAIDS, People living with HIV are at a greatly increased risk of developing mental health conditions, often suffering from depression, anxiety, euphoria, hallucinations and psychosis as they adjust to their diagnosis and adapt to living with a chronic infectious disease.
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Governments' are urged to integrate mental health and HIV services. The call was made by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS-UNAIDS, in commemoration of world Mental Health Day, observed annually on 10 October.

According to UNAIDS, People living with HIV are at a greatly increased risk of developing mental health conditions, often suffering from depression, anxiety, euphoria, hallucinations and psychosis as they adjust to their diagnosis and adapt to living with a chronic infectious disease.

For over a decade, research has shown that rates of mental health problems may be as high as 50 percent in people living with HIV. But despite the high prevalence of mental illness, psychiatric disorders are commonly under-diagnosed and under-treated in this population.

Such mental health issues affect the quality of life for People Living with HIV and stop them from seeking health care, adhering to treatment and continuing in care. Studies across 38 countries show that 15 percent of adults and 25 percent of adolescents living with HIV reported depression or feeling overwhelmed, which could be a barrier to adherence to antiretroviral therapy.

A statement by the UNAIDS shows that people living with mental health problems can also be at higher risk of HIV, exacerbated by low access to information and knowledge of HIV, including how to prevent it, injecting drug use, sexual contact with people who inject drugs, sexual abuse and low use of condoms.

Studies conducted over five continents have also estimated that HIV prevalence among people living with severe mental disorders could be between 1.5 percent in Asia and up to 19 percent in Africa.

“HIV affects the most vulnerable and marginalized in society, who are also disproportionally affected by mental health issues,” Michel Sidibé, the UNAIDS Executive Director said.  He pointed out that by integrating HIV and mental health services governments will be able to reach more people with the specialist care and life-saving support they urgently need.

Currently, very few health services are addressing the HIV-related needs of people living with mental health issues or the mental health issues of people living with HIV.

Sidibe says that identifying mental health issues among people living with HIV is critical adding that services should ensure access to voluntary and confidential HIV testing and counseling for people who may be at increased risk of HIV.

The statement recommends that primary health-care providers be trained to recognize and treat common mental health and substance-use disorders and refer people to expert care.

“Prevention, testing, treatment and care services must meet the complex medical, psychological and social needs of people affected by HIV and mental health issues, which can be best managed through integrated programmes,” it adds.

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