Health Experts Warn Of Alcohol Use Among People Living With HIV

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There are high levels of alcohol use among people living with HIV, affecting their adherence to HIV medications, according to researchers at Makerere University School of Public Health.

In a study conducted among fishermen operating around Lake Victoria, researchers screened over a thousand fishermen and individuals who closely work with them. They found HIV prevalence to be around 30 to 40 per cent, more than five times the 6% national average.

According to Nazarius Mbona Tumwesigye a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Bio-statistics who was the Co–investigator on the study, they went ahead to screen individuals who had been on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) for a month or more for alcohol levels in their blood and found it very high.

Prof. Susan M. Kiene of San Diego State University who was the Principal Investigator says they tested an intervention called Kisobooka during this study to check whether constant counselling on alcohol consumption, ART adherence, and HIV care engagement among fishermen can help curb alcohol abuse.

She says by the end of the study, some participants reported a reduction in the number of drinks consumed per occasion and others per week. This to her means that such an intervention can potentially reduce chronic heavy and hazardous alcohol use.

The researchers also incorporated five HIV clinics in Wakiso district and had 160 clients followed up for a period of six months.

Dr. Hafisa Lukwata the Assistant Commissioner in Charge of Mental Health at the Health Ministry acknowledged that there is a big problem of abuse of alcohol which cannot allow the HIV positive to remain in care. She notes that the bigger challenge is that alcohol abuse has been normalized and is not treated as a mental illness that caregivers don’t think of seeking proper care for those with problems.

However, Prof Rhoda Wanyenze, the Dean at the School of Public Health says this can be reversed by simple interventions that the ministry needs to integrate into existing HIV service.

She suggests forming support groups among clients such that peers can keep each other in check and report cases that prove to be complex and unmanageable. In this study, she says more than half had chronic challenges with alcohol use, and up to 75% reported meeting a sexual partner at an alcohol venue.

Tumwesigye says such interventions as purposive counselling on alcohol use can be cheaply incorporated into the current HIV Care.

According to statistics by the Uganda AIDS Commission, the prevalence of HIV among fishermen, who are also categorized as key populations is high at 29%.

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