New unit to address HIV, mental illness


    17 September 2012

    The Lufuno Neuropsychiatric Centre was launched at Tara Hospital in Johannesburg last week to widen the range of care given to patients living with HIV/Aids and mental illness.

    Patients at Lufuno – which means “love” in TshiVenda – will be given comprehensive care for the management and treatment of HIV and Aids, as well as an integrated outpatient neuropsychiatry service for clients with both mental illness and HIV.

    Deputy Health Minister Gwen Ramokgopa said that until recently not enough attention had been paid to the issue of the concomitance of mental disorders and HIV.

    She said the tide was slowly turning as research was being done to understand the phenomenon.

    Ramokgopa also noted that as the disease load increased, so too did the burden of mental disorders. She was optimistic that the new centre at Tara would go a long way towards helping the country formulate a response to this challenge.

    ‘Centre of excellence’

    “We look forward to Tara Hospital as a centre of excellence for mental illnesses and a unit like Lufuno to find solutions for society to not only to deal with clinical matters, but also public outcomes … we need to assure the public that together, we are capable of dealing with things,” Ramokgopa said.

    Ramokgopa also called on experts to work closely with society to find solutions for the treatment of mental stress.

    She urged the hospital’s staff to not only work to understand individual patients, but to partner with institutions like the Human Sciences Research Council to broaden the research scope. She also challenged researchers to do more work to understand the impact of the concomitance of HIV and mental disorders.

    “We need to ensure that research is on-going and knowledge is flowing. We don’t want to base services on situations that are [dated]. We need evidence-based medicine to be practised.

    “This facility provides us with a possibility of getting to the bottom of the cause of stress and vulnerability to mental illness in South Africa.”

    Providing an integrated service

    Tara Hospital chief executive officer, Florence Otiano, said the Lufuno clinic was a unique opportunity to help the hospital become a centre of excellence, providing an integrated service to the very vulnerable population on the one hand, and on the other, training for health professionals and specialists conducting research in the field of neuropsychiatry.

    “This is an unexplored area in South Africa that will be contributing to evidence based medicine in this field. HIV and Aids has brought a whole suffering to humankind,” Otiano said.

    “As more people live longer with HIV, the mental illness associated with will increase and this needs to be addressed.”

    Mafika Mkwanazi, chairperson of Transnet – which is one of the sponsors of the centre – said the centre will play a vital role in the treatment of HIV.

    “It will go a long way in alleviating the suffering of many patients. One of the motivating factors in supporting this initiative is that it forms an integral part of the governance of the HIV/Aids and STI strategic plan for South Africa.

    “The primary aim is to reduce the number of new HIV infections. This will go a long way towards achieving these goals,” said Mkwanazi.