People Living with HIV should avoid tobacco smoking as impacts are irreversible

On Wednesday 31st May 2023, Uganda will join the rest of the world to commemorate World No-Tobacco Day under the theme “grow food, not tobacco.”

Despite the efforts to discourage tobacco consumption among humans, some of the People Living with HIV have continued to use the dangerous substance which affects their health.

Smoking is one of the major causes of premature mortality among people living with HIV. There is a high prevalence of cigarette smoking among people living with HIV in Uganda, estimated at 20% for men and 6% for women and significantly higher compared to the general population.

Current studies show that the prevalence of smoking among women is rising with the difference in smoking between boys and girls narrowing. The estimates are significantly higher among people living with HIV as compared to the general population.

Although tobacco is dangerous and reduces the life expectancy of the general population, it causes very serious health risks to the people living with HIV. There are various medical conditions brought about or exacerbated by smoking and these include; bacterial pneumonia, respiratory conditions such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Pulmonary infections and eventually death.

Smoking also increases the risk of poor reproductive outcomes such as; preterm delivery and low birth weight, erectile dysfunction.it also increases the risk of diabetes and in general decreases the quality of life of a person.

In addition, alcohol consumption and mental health comorbidities such as stress, depression and anxiety increase the chances of smoking among people living with HIV, as majority use it is as coping mechanism or a quick fix for their stressors/difficult situations. These people need to be helped to overcome these challenges by practicing healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise,meditation,healthy sleep routine etc.

People who smoke are substantially more likely to die from lung cancer than HIV and also more likely predisposed to have a poor response to HIV treatment. Ministry of Health recommends that all people living with HIV be screened for smoking and those who smoke encouraged to quit. Every health worker ought to take this seriously.

Therefore, health care professionals should play a key role in improving the health among this population by tailoring treatments to address specific client needs and greater resources and effort be allocated in the rehabilitation of this population and developing cessation treatments and interventions for them.

At Reach Out Mbuya Community Health Initiative for example, health workers at the different sites work together to ensure clients are well screened for smoking and are accorded necessary help to enable them stay healthy. Referrals are also done where necessary.

Although there is a high burden of HIV among people in Uganda, with the availability of ART, people living with HIV can have a normal life experience and above average lifespan if they stay away from dangerous acts such as smoking. Achieving this is everybody’s responsibility.

Written by Damalie Nakyomu,

a midwife at Reach Out Mbuya Community Health Initiative.

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