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Monday,September 24,2018 19:50 PM

HIV disrupts brainwork

By Lillian Namusoke Magezi

Added 19th April 2018 11:33 AM

Birungi explained that HIV/AIDS predisposes people to mental illness in several ways, which include the virus itself interfering with the normal functioning of the brain.

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Birungi explained that HIV/AIDS predisposes people to mental illness in several ways, which include the virus itself interfering with the normal functioning of the brain.

Mental illness has been identified as one of the common conditions that co-exist with HIV/AIDS.

According to Dr. Caroline Birungi, a psychiatrist at Mulago Hospital, up to 96% of people living with HIV/AIDs have at one time suffered a mental health condition for which they needed medical care.

Birungi, who is also a lecturer at Makerere University, made the disclosure while addressing health writers during training at the African Centre for Media Excellence in Bunga, a Kampala suburb.

The training is aimed at empowering journalists with information and skills so as to improve their coverage of health issues, especially those related to HIV/AIDS.

Birungi explained that HIV/AIDS predisposes people to mental illness in several ways, which include the virus itself interfering with the normal functioning of the brain.

In addition, mental illness could also arise as a side-effect of the anti-retroviral viral drugs that are used to treat people living with HIV/AIDS.
 
Depression most common form of mental illness in people with HIV/AIDS

Birungi noted that the most common form of mental illness among people living with HIV/AIDS is depression.
 
She disclosed that the prevalence of depression in Uganda is at 23%, but the percentage doubles among people living with HIV/AIDS.

She noted that risk factors that predispose people living with HIV/AIDS to depression include:

Having an incurable disease, which requires them to be on treatment for life and struggling to adhere to the treatment. This is especially compounded by lack of psycho-social support for patients. Some people also think about death and the idea of waiting to die makes them limit their activities and choices, which intensifies their depression.

One having to change their behavior and adapt new practices, such as having to ensure protected sex and proper nutrition in addition to changing habits that they might have lived with for a long time such as having to stop drinking and smoking.

Depression could also be linked to the side-effects of the treatment given to people living with HIV/AIDS. Birungi explained that side-effects of ARVS include redistribution of body fat in an individual, which leads to body changes and disfigurement. This could lead to a situation where a person has no fat in the face, a big stomach, thinning arms and legs and a hump in the back. Such can affect a person’s self-esteem, which increases self-stigma, thus leading to depression.

Way forward

Birungi noted that if not well-handled, mental illness and especially depression could make people give up on taking their medication and thus suffer drug resistance, which badly impacts their quality of life and makes treatment expensive.

She urged medical workers treating people living with HIV/AIDS to take the initiative to ask them about the state of their mental health and offer the necessary support.

She also urged the government to increase funding to the health sector and especially the money for mental health so as to improve service delivery.  

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