Mutoriro tops substances linked with HIV infection

Harare (New Ziana) – As the country grapples with widespread drug and substance abuse, Crystal meth, popularly known as Mutoriro has emerged as the substance most linked with HIV infection, an expert on mental health has said.

Dr Munyaradzi Madhombiro, a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at the Midlands State University told a recent National Aids Council (NAC) workshop that HIV increases the vulnerability to mental illness due to stigma considering that both HIV and mental illness are subjects of stigma.

Co-managing HIV and mental illness can improve treatment outcomes in either direction, Dr Madhombiro said, adding that the media had a special role in eliminating stigma, discrimination, and myths on the two conditions in Zimbabwe.

While explaining the difference between mental health and mental illness, he said drug abuse is a form of mental illness.

“The virus enters the brain upon HIV infection; once in the brain, the virus starts the process of braking down the brain tissues through several pathways including the immune system,” he said. “People with mental illness have increased vulnerability to the viral entrance into their brains; people especially with substance use are at increased risk of brain damage due to the HIV virus.”

“Alcohol consumption is associated with HIV infection across the continuum of care, people who drink are less likely to use protection and PrEP, PEP and engage in HIV treatment. Alcohol causes liver damage and the liver is meant to breakdown poisons that include ARVs. Substances use/drug abuse is associated with risky sexual behaviours; similarly, substances use causes poor adherence, and poor HIV treatment outcomes.

“HIV causes cognitive impairment, people with mental illness tend to forget taking their medication and hence have high risk of poor viral suppression and hence remain infectious. ARVs can cause some mental illness that may lead them to fail to adhere to treatment.”

Dr Madhombiro said stress is not necessarily a mental disorder but may result in mental ill-health while anxiety is thinking too much on things that may not worry a lot of other people and depression is a major mental illness characterized by thinking too much, loss of energy and drive, multiple pains, crying, poor sleep, decreased sex drive, excessive alcohol use, hearing voices and seeing visions and having suicide tendencies.

Other forms of mental illness are psychosis which is abnormal behavior, thought disorders, delusions, and hallucinations, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Some signs of mental illness include worrying, fear, poor sleep, poor concentration, excessive crying, suicidality and severe symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder and suspiciousness (paranoia).

He said mental illness is treatable and mentally ill people are not always violent.

New Ziana

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