World AIDS Day is about increasing awareness, fighting prejudice, improving education and working together to achieve universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care.
2011 has seen a decline in new infections and a continued increase in the numbers of people accessing antiretroviral therapy and as a result, there has been a decline in the number of AIDS related deaths. However progress is still slow, so this year’s theme is ‘Getting to Zero’, with the global community focusing on achieving three HIV/AIDS targets: “Zero new HIV infections; Zero discrimination; Zero AIDS-related deaths”.
According to UNAIDS estimates, there are now 33.3 million people worldwide living with HIV. During 2009 some 2.6 million people became newly infected with the virus and an estimated 1.8 million people died from AIDS . While HIV/AIDS is a pan-age issue, much of the attention to date has gone to younger people of childbearing age and so far there has been little reference to older people with HIV. For example, the World Health Organisation only analyses the HIV/AIDS population into two cohorts: > 15 and < 15 years old. In the US 20% of those with HIV/AIDS are >50 years, and current estimates show by 2015 over 50% of people with the virus in the US will be in this age group. We also know that around 13% of people living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa are in their 50s and above. 
Not only are older people contracting HIV/AIDS, people with the condition are increasingly likely to live into older age. While we must continue to work towards universal coverage for anti-retroviral treatment, as health care interventions continue to improve, the myth that people with HIV die ‘young’ will be proven to be just that – a myth. As people get older, including people with HIV, they are more likely to engage and interact with the health sector. It would be a step backward if, for reasons of discrimination and stigma, people with HIV felt unable to get treatment for non-AIDS-related conditions. The role of informal carers will therefore be even more important. In this context we need to further acknowledge the role played by grandparents caring for their grandchildren and the adverse impact this can have on the incomes and pensions of older carers.
What can we do to improve the situation? There is simply far too little data and literature which measures older people with HIV/AIDS and this omission must be tackled quickly. Research at the community level is required, that focuses on a range of issues, from understanding about the health implications of living in older age with HIV/AIDS, through education and emotional support. We need to understand and share the experiences of older people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS and what it means to them and their families, Then we must go on to subsequently ensure that they get the care and understanding they require to plan for the future.
1. UNAIDS (2010) ‘UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic’
See also: UNAIDS (2011) ‘World AIDS Day 2011′
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