Asia Australia Mental Health were delighted to be in Melbourne for the first Global AIDS Conference in Australia, and to support a mental health presence at AIDS 2014 in Melbourne

Delegates to this prestigious global health event included the 10 mental health leaders who are currently undertaking an Australia Awards Fellowship funded by the Department for Foreign Affairs., The 10 week placement with Victorian mental health community programs is being hosted by Asia Australia Mental Health. (

As mental health specialists from Myanmar, Philippines and Laos PDR, this was a special opportunity for a wide range of presentations, for hearing about both the science and social impacts of disease.  As a global conference on a priority public health issue of HIV, the presentations were very high quality and many experts presented platforms for understanding that can be transferred to other settings, and highlighted new ways of providing effective health care.

After the conference, the AAMH group brought some of their impressions together and highlighted several points that were outstanding from a mental health perspective.  The group appreciated the Global Village activities, with entertainment from many cultures underpinned by health messages.  Several studies were relevant to different workplaces such as studies which identified increased suicide risks in people with HIV, as well as evidenced based strategies for low resource setting to mitigate these risks.  Other studies presented the negative impact on treatment outcomes as well as prevention interventions found to be associated with mental health co-morbidity and psychosocial problems

Some of the workshops which the AAMH group attended were able to maximise the expertise of the audience, and offered practical skills.  An example was a workshop for publishing in international forums, with a focus on better engagement from low income and non-English speaking contexts.  “The topic of research publication was really great and gave the steps and difficulties in getting your work published.” (Philippines delegate)

The emerging key theme of the conference was around stigma and discrimination and health impacts which provided much food for thought around integrating mental health services with general health and HIV specialist services.  “So we, as mental health professionals have to provide good mental health services to reinforce their strengths that they have, get involved in education on HIV/AIDS, mental health/drug and alcohol within the community, harm reduction, etc” (Laos PDR delegate)

Sessions on ‘communicating science’ demonstrated that both HIV and Mental Health have had tremendous inputs from science which have changed the way services are routinely delivered, and how the public perceive risks, treatments, recovery from illness.  They also stressed the importance of considering social and psychological domains in health

The AAMH group felt that there was a real opportunity for improving community health by improving integration of HIV and mental health providers.  “AIDS has a great effect on the psychological profile of patient with HIV.  However, there were only a few sessions that discussed psychological intervention with people with HIV.” (Myanmar delegate)

This was an area strongly identified as needing energy and expertise for more collaboration and improved pathways between specialist mental health services and HIV health services, and we look forward to seeing more mental health included for AIDS 2015 in Durban.

Photo: Dr. Phonedavane Donesavane, Dr. Chantharavady Choulamany, Dr. Phyu Sin Win, Dr. Visanou Hansana, Dr. Nyo Nyo Aung, Brigid Ryan, Dr. Nwe Ni, Dr. Joeffrey Cruzada, Dr. Sysavanh Phommachanh, Dr. Lavanh Vongsavanthong, A/Prof Than Than Aye.