The Ugandan Ministry of Health says it is expanding mental health support infrastructure for HIV care and management to cover the whole country, and further raise awareness about the relationship between mental health, substance abuse, and HIV transmission.
Dr. Hafsa Lukwata, the Commissioner Mental Health and Substance Use told Solutions Now Africa that the ministry is undertaking new preventive measures to reduce drug abuse among young people, which is thought to have a direct link with the HIV infection.
Some of the measures highlighted include; comprehensive education programs in schools, community outreach initiatives, and the provision of accessible mental health and addiction treatment services in key health facilities.
“Integrated services that combine mental health support with HIV care have been expanded and made readily available across the country, particularly in areas with high HIV prevalence,” Dr. Lukwata said.
Recent data sheds light on the alarming rise of drug abuse among young Ugandans aged 16-35. Also the country is recording about 1,100 new HIV cases every week with about 40% in the same age group.
It is estimated that over 30% of young people engage in substance abuse, with marijuana and cheaply available synthetic drugs being the most commonly used.
According to Dr. Kimera Julius, a psychiatrist at Mulago Mental Health Department, the spike in depressive disorders and substance abuse is intertwined with the rise in HIV cases among the youth. He says mental unwellness is luring young people to find solace is risky behavior, heightening their vulnerability to HIV.
“You find that a person with mental illness may not be able to say no if reached out for sexual endeavors. They are vulnerable, therefore they are easily manipulated into unprotected sexual practices that lead to HIV,” Dr.Kimera explains.
The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have highlighted the critical need for integrating mental health services into HIV care to address especially the fact that mental un-wellness affects the retention treatment for most patients.
“Patients living with Hiv are unlikely to adhere to their medication because someone who is feeling sad, sick, worthless, and with no motivation, will not take the medication. And not taking the medication ultimately increases that person’s viral load,” says Dr. Kimera.