In sub-Saharan Africa, people living with HIV are more likely to be depressed than the general population. HIV can directly affect the brain Which leads to complications that affect our mood and way of thinking. Moreover, many related factors such as social isolation, lack of socioeconomic opportunities, and feelings of stigma can all affect mental health.
In areas such as post-conflict Uganda, rates depression Among those infected with HIV is estimated at up to 70%. In low-resource settings like these, extreme poverty, food insecurity and limited healthcare provision make it very difficult for people to get the help they need.
Previous research has shown that untreated depression among people living with HIV can mean that individuals do not adhere to HIV medications properly and are more likely to die prematurely.
MQ researcher Ethel Nakimuli-Mpungu, who was one of the first MQ Fellows, decided to work on a new way to provide treatment to these hard-to-reach communities in Uganda.
Ethel and her team have developed a culturally sensitive group psychotherapy program that can be administered by mainstream health workers from local clinics, reducing the need for scarce specialized resources to address these pressing issues.
The program, called SEEK-GSP – Social, Emotional, and Economic Empowerment Knowledge through Group Support Psychotherapy – has a strong focus on helping people build supportive relationships, develop coping skills, and learn new income-generating skills to help break cycles of poverty.
Early results from Ethel’s work indicated marked improvement for the vast majority of recipients of this intervention, who were not only freed from depression, but also improved their adherence to HIV treatment and began to show reduced viral loads.
Now a A new paper has been published Examines the long-term impact of the SEEK-GSP, showing that the physical and mental health benefits last over the long term.
“People living with HIV who participate in SEEKGSP will have a lower risk of transmitting HIV to others,” says Dr. Nakimole.
Two years after the GSP sessions ended, the prevalence of major depression remained at very low levels among those who received treatment (1%), and the number of participants who were adhering to their HIV medication was significantly higher than the control groups who did not participate in the sessions. . The combination of these two factors resulted in a sustained improvement in virus suppression among the group.
The beneficial effects of SEEK-GSP may be attributed to the ongoing emotional and social support that is developed within groups, positive coping techniques and income generation skills that are learned, all of which are protective factors against depression.
The long-term positive outcome achieved by SEEK-GSP in Uganda cannot be overemphasized. The intervention is effective in terms of reducing the burden of disease, alleviating poverty, and is highly cost-effective, due to its collective form and use of ordinary workers.
The potential for this approach is huge, and in addition to rolling it out across Uganda as part of the government’s non-communicable disease program, Ethel and her team continue to work towards expanding its reach, adapting it to children and young people, with the initial pilot having very encouraging results.
Ethel also continues to work with MQ to obtain further funding to expand across Africa, with local partnerships with public health departments already in place in Nigeria and Cameroon.
Could you Read more about Ethel here.