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HIV Dementia Epidemic in Uganda

Posted Oct 02 2008 6:16pm

A recently released study has showen that 465,000 HIV-positive people in Uganda are experiencing symptoms of dementia, including memory loss, learning problems and behavioural disabilities. The researchers found that dementia symptoms were more prevalent in older adults.“If the rate we saw in our study translates across sub-Saharan Africa, then we are looking at more than eight million people in this region with HIV dementia,” said Ned Sacktor of the US-based John Hopkins University, who led the study. These findings pose yet another challenge to a country that is already overwhelmed by the health challenges posed by the AIDS epidemic. The researchers tested 78 HIV-positive people attending a clinic in Kampala, Uganda and compared the results with a control group 100 HIV-negative subjects. HIV dementia is treatable and potentially reversible although anti-retroviral medication is largely unavailable in many Third World countries. Sacktor hopes studies like his will highlight the problem in resource-limited countries like Uganda and encourage more programmes to bring much-needed medication to such countries.

The director of Butabika Mental Hospital, Fred Kigozi, said although drug abuse and alcoholism were the leading causes of mental illness, HIV/AIDS is also a major contributor.  The problem is made worse by the fact that there are very few trained professionals and facilities to handle mental illness. “We have just 25 psychiatrists compared to more than 20,000 in the UK”.  Butabika is the only psychiatric hospital, Kigozi explained. Thomas Oyok, a psychiatrist at the Gulu mental unit, told The New Vision that the facility was not well-equipped to handle the rising number of cases in the region. “The basic drugs are not there. We get them from Butabika.” Uganda is drafting a mental health policy that will ensure that the condition becomes a key component of the primary health care strategy and attendant services delivered to the grassroots.

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