Depression Overlooked In Treating HIV in Africa

Creating an AIDS-free generation requires more than anti-viral medication to contain the spread of HIV.

This week, the 16th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) took place in Addis Abba, Ethiopia and some experts used the forum to discuss the issue of stigma-related depression among HIV patients.

People suffering from the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the African continent are facing high rates of depression that are challenging their ability to seek treatment for the virus, lowering their adherence to anti-viral medications and stifling their chances at leading a happy life.

Successful HIV treatment can greatly curb the spread of the virus, as proper treatment of the disease can reduce the risk of transmission by 96 percent, but debilitating levels of depression thwart the ability of infected people to receive help.

Depression is more common among those with the HIV virus than among the general population and is the most common mental health problem for people living with HIV on the African continent.

In a Zambian mental health study conducted by Kwalombota, 85 percent of HIV positive pregnant women had major depression and suicidal thoughts. The numbers indicate similar instances in South Africa, Uganda, and other sub-Saharan African countries.

“Operation research carried out in Zambia has found a positive correlation between patients who self-stigmatized and failure to adhere to treatment,” said Zambian Ministry of Health official Sikawze Izukanyi at the ICASA forum.

“Stigma is a chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world,” according to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

Medical health experts contend that stigma and stigma-induced depression remains a huge barrier to combating the disease because in many African countries the systems for screening, diagnosing and treating mental health concerns do not exist.

Medical professionals subscribe that a mix of mental health services with primary healthcare activities should be used to address the problem of depression among HIV positive individuals in Africa.

As mental health concerns are correlated to the treatment and prevention of HIV, a critical component of creating an AIDS-free generation will be to focus funds and efforts to treat the problems that stifle treatment.

The HIV virus has killed more than 30 million people since 1981 and has been one of the worst pandemics in global history. An estimated 33 million people currently live with HIV worldwide.