Global Fund: what’s the fight without considering mental health?

By Anna Watkins

This year the BluePrint Group for Global Mental Health, coordinated by UnitedGMH agreed that, one immediate opportunity, to increase funding for mental health for the most vulnerable, is the replenishment of the Global Fund for the fight against HIV, TB and Malaria.

The Global Fund, a partnership of civil society, governments, the private sector and technical agencies is a pooled fund committed to funding the global fight against the three epidemics of Malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV. In October, the Global Fund’s sixth, three year cycle will launch, with the replenishment summit falling on October 10th; World Mental Health Day. We must use this connection to shine a light on the need to integrate mental health into HIV and TB services worldwide, and more specifically into the policies of the Global Fund.

Global Mental Health experts, Shekhar Saxena and Vikram Patel; commissioners of the Lancet Report on Global Mental Health, have highlighted the vital need to include mental health in the Global Fund replenishment, in their recent article in “Health: A political choice”. Mental health and physical health are not disparate entities, and in order for the Global Fund to be able to better serve people living with HIV and TB, they must provide guidance for their partners on integrating mental health support in HIV and TB prevention, detection and treatment. If a patient’s mental health is looked after then their likelihood to adhere to their treatment program is significantly higher than a person with poor mental health. Saxena and Patel write “There is solid proof that individuals with unsupported mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorders, are less likely to seek testing for HIV, and less likely to follow advice following their test result.”

joint paper was produced by global experts highlighting the co-morbidity of HIV/AIDS, TB and mental health conditions, and called on the Global Fund to update its policies and guidance so to align with recommendations from the WHO and other institutions; to integrate mental health services into programmes aimed to prevent, diagnose and treat HIV/AIDS and TB; and highlights that investment in mental health will ultimately aid the Global Fund in achieving its core goals. A number of governments have supported this position  and called on the Global Fund to take action in a letter sent to the Global Fund Strategy Committee signed by the UK, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and the Netherlands along with HIV/AIDS advocates.

As a global mental health community we should seize this opportunity to put pressure on the global fund and call for them to commit to including mental health in their policies. We also call on governments and other stakeholders present at the replenishment summit to ensure mental health is on the agenda, and the global fund responds to the needs of the most vulnerable people it helps.