Currently, about 39% of patients diagnosed with this virus suffer from depression. One of the main problems is that 47.6% of new diagnoses are late
For years they have been discriminated against, set aside, and stigmatized. Since the 1980s, people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection have lived in silence for fear of being rejected. However, despite the fact that there are currently around 150,000 people infected with HIV in Spain, it remains a silenced disease full of taboos.
The medical advances that have been achieved throughout these four decades have meant that today, “a person who has HIV but who takes the medication correctly, has an undetectable viral load and, therefore, does not transmit that infection ” Explains Dr. Celia Miralles, from the HIV Unit of the Álvaro Cunqueiro Hospital in Vigo. In this sense, the doctor remarks that “it is one of the most important factors in terms of the quality of life of patients. “
However, the problem is that “we have patients with a perfectly controlled infection, but they present symptoms of depression and anxiety “, laments the head of the Infectious Diseases Unit of the University Hospital of Valencia, Pepa Galindo. In fact, according to a study published in the US National Library of Medicine, currently, 39% of HIV patients suffer from depression.
Galindo points out that, very often, people who have aged with the virus have problems of social isolation: “we have a psychologist who comes on Fridays and helps patients to accept the disease, accept it and learn to live with it”. However, Dr. Celia Miralles explains that “many people experience their medical situation with guilt, discrimination, and loneliness. “
Another key factor in the quality of life of these patients is the role played by foundations and NGOs. Many of these organizations have support programs, training, and workshops. “Many of the patients find in foundations spaces where they can share their experiences with other people who are in the same situation,” says Galindo.
On the other hand, people with HIV infection are often more likely to suffer from other cardiovascular and kidney diseases. Dr. Galindo explains that 60% of the patients in her office are over 50 years old, an age at which pathologies such as diabetes, hypertension, and cholesterol usually appear. “What we have seen is that people with HIV tend to have accelerated aging that causes them to suffer from other diseases sooner, ” Galindo warns. Along these lines, several studies indicate that in this type of patient, kidney problems, diabetes and hypertension could appear between five and 10 years earlier than in people without HIV.
Something that could be avoided with an early diagnosis. One of the main problems in HIV patients, according to government data, is that 47.6% of new diagnoses are detected late. As Dr. Miralles sees it, “late diagnosis is associated with higher mortality. If you are older and have any other pathology, you will have a worse response to medication “. In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report stating that starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) earlier could help people who have been infected live longer and prevent three million more deaths and 3.5 million more new HIV infections by 2025. According to Dr. Miralles, delays in diagnosis occur “because many people do not have a perception of risk . “
In addition, the saturation of the health system that has caused the pandemic caused by the coronavirus has also affected the detection of new cases of HIV infection. “Last year, after the summer, we had many new cases and now few are coming, ” Galindo highlights. Far from thinking that there have been no new infections, Galindo perceives that isolation and the difficulty of accessing primary health centers have led to fewer serological tests being carried out.
The health crisis has also completely altered the circuits of care and monitoring of patients with HIV. “In the Valencian Community we send the medication by mail and we carry out the consultations by telephone,” explains Dr. Galindo. However, Galindo regrets that between consultations, which occur every six months, a lot happens. That is why he defends the idea of creating virtual hospitals or applications so that “patients can solve problems with more agility”.