A Melbourne dietitian has won a national award for his work on a screening tool used to detect depression in people living with HIV.

The Dietitians Association of Australia awarded Aaron Di Guilmi with the 2012 Emerging Researcher Award last month.

He won the award for a two-part questionnaire that asked patients if they had been feeling low or depressed and if they had lost pleasure in doing things.

The tool was tested against a 10 question survey with 70 people and proved to be just as effective and reliable as the longer survey.

“The most important finding was that this tool was reliable in picking up people living with HIV at risk of depression,” Di Guilmi said.

“These two questions could be included in nutrition screening processes or used in outpatient assessment forms,” he said.

Di Guilmi said depression among people living with HIV was reported as much higher than in the general population.

“But depression in this group often goes undiagnosed and untreated and this can affect the response to therapy and treatment,” he said.

A 2009 study from the National Centre in HIV Social Research found HIV-positive men had the highest rates of major depression.

The study surveyed 700 men who attended several high HIV-caseload general practices in Australia.

HIV status was not directly associated with major depression, according to the study.

Instead, HIV-positive people often faced socioeconomic hardship and isolation which led to depression.

Victorian AIDS Council executive director Matt Dixon told the Star Observer people living with HIV experienced discrimination, poverty and isolation.

“Issues like fear of discrimination and experiences of stigma add to the likelihood that someone is going to feel isolated and that is associated with depression,” he said.

Dixon said many HIV positive people live in “relative poverty” and also face a lack of social support.

He said there was a risk that depression could affect the ongoing medical treatment for people living with HIV.

“If you’re depressed and … you’re not motivated to do much of anything, then it’s pretty likely that that could have a negative effect on your ability to keep up with your treatments,” he said.

Di Guilmi has done work around HIV and food security and completed his Masters with the Albion Street Centre, an HIV clinic in Sydney.

He also received $1000 and will attend the association’s national conference later this year.

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