Sustaining the momentum on mental health and HIV/AIDS

Over 4,000 delegates from all over the world gathered in Brisbane on 23-26 July 2023 to discuss the latest science on HIV prevention and treatment, as well as to advance the agenda on integrated person-centred care, including mental health, in the International AIDS Society (IAS) 2023. United for Global Mental Health (UnitedGMH), with the support of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, took part in the global dialogue by hosting both a satellite session on HIV and mental health in young people and a roundtable focused on advocating for increasing financing and mobilising donors in the HIV and mental health space.

The satellite session,Harnessing collective action to scale-up person-centred mental health and HIV services for young people,” on July 24th captured both global and national perspectives on the integration of mental health into HIV and TB. Yves Miel Zuniga, Senior Officer with UnitedGMH, opened the session by welcoming everyone and speaking to the power of the youth not only as the leaders of tomorrow, but as the voice of the today. Neerja Chowdhary of the World Health Organisation then framed the session by underscoring that the evidence is clear that mental health care for people living with HIV contributes to improved treatment outcomes and adherence. She highlighted key entry points for the integration of mental health services across the prevention and care continuum for HIV and shared the existing normative guidance in this space.


Davina Canagasabey from  PATH presented evidence on the positive impact of providing safe spaces and conflict resolution sessions for adolescent girls and young women affected by HIV in Kenya. PATH has seen a one third reduction in reporting negative relationships with partners from those who completed the sessions. Finally, we heard from Tung Doan representing Lighthouse Vietnam and Y+ Global who said, “We care for humans, not illness.” He  explained their approach to  ‘person-centred care,’ including mental health for young people who use drugs in Vietnam. 

During the Q&A, panellists and audience members reflected on some of the persistent research gaps, challenges related to program design and implementation and the need to scale-up investment in the HIV and mental health space. This discussion was consistent with the findings of a new landscape analysis on HIV and mental health in young people, conducted by UnitedGMH with the support of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The analysis highlights the need to meaningfully include mental health in HIV/AIDS service delivery platforms for populations with unique needs such as the youth and  calls for action.


UnitedGMH also facilitated a roundtable discussion, “HIV/AIDS and mental health: mobilising donors and increasing investment,” which convened a diverse-range of global and local mental health champions representing civil societies, government agencies, and implementing organisations in the HIV/AIDS space. The discussion included: Lighthouse Vietnam, WeCare Organization, Plan International India, FHI360, PATH, IAS, APCOM Thailand, Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI Nigeria), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and Zimbabwe National AIDS Council). Key insights discussed included the following:

  • Integration of mental health is one of the crucial facets of person-centred care;
  • Programme implementers and funders need to agree on a set of shared indicators to ensure mental health is not siloed;
  • There are existing research gaps on the integration of mental health and HIV and we need to continue to generate evidence in different settings, with different populations, to further demonstrate effectiveness;
  • Community voice must be further included in the mental health and HIV integration space; and
  • Models integrating mental health and HIV that demonstrates the return on investment potential should be scaled up and widely disseminated.

As an outcome of the roundtable discussion, there was an agreement to jointly advocate for donors to increase investments in programme funding models that integrate mental health and HIV programmes, and to work with organisations to capture and disseminate the return on investment of doing so.   


This group will now meet regularly to discuss ideas, approaches and advocacy strategies to encourage the traditional HIV/AIDS donors, as well as new donors, to invest in mental health. UnitedGMH will convene the group  and lead the development of a terms of reference. Meeting on a monthly basis, we are confident that together this group can drive action and achieve impact by influencing a range of donors to include mental health in their investments.


Overall, and building on our work at the IAS 2022 meeting, we were encouraged to see mental health gaining traction across the various IAS sessions. This included the IAS-hosted Person-Centred Care Workshop, as well as the Global HIV Migration, Mobility and Health Equity. Mental health was also featured in two of the five conference tracks, during the rapporteurs session. Rapporteurs have the important task of objectively recording the proceedings and groundbreaking presentations at IAS. To hear an international team of rapporteurs reporting back on mental health, as part of the key conference highlights was powerful and motivating.


In conclusion, IAS 2023 was a critical global moment for continuing to build momentum and strengthening the discussions around mental health and its integration into person-centred care. There will be no end to HIV without meaningfully integrating mental health.