The elderly and black communities within HIV discussion
So what are some of the hot topics of discussion at the conference? Many delegates have been horrified about what is going on – or not going on – regarding HIV in the US, especially the extent to which it impacts on African-Americans who make up 14% of the US population yet account for 44% of new HIV infections.
Tying in with that, for the first time in the history of the International AIDS Conference, was a formal session to discuss HIV and AIDS in the context of the black diaspora. Defining and categorizing which groups belong to the black diaspora is not simple, and neither are the issues impacting the lives of these communities living in the developed world and struggling with HIV. In this environment of decreasing funding, black communities will need to tap into the human and financial resources from within their own communities, rather than focus on external support.
HIV and aging is another hot topic that has quickly gathered pace in the last few days. The number of people living with HIV who are over 50-years-old is increasing, as well as those being diagnosed. Many people over 50 do not consider themselves at risk of HIV and there are hardly any prevention messages targeted at this group. At the conference, a delegate talked of a 94-year-old HIV positive person who accessed a support group in the US for a few years but died at the age of 97.
Older people may respond well to HIV treatment, but other health issues relating to getting older might further complicate their lives. There is a massive lack of data on HIV in older people because they remain invisible in HIV programmes. In the developed world, the issues of HIV and aging are starting to be taken seriously and research is picking up pace, however very little is being done for older men and women living with HIV in the developing world.
‘The beginning of the end of AIDS’ has become the mantra of this IAS conference. It is fantastic that we can aspire to end AIDS, and over the last few years new HIV infections have indeed levelled off in some of the high prevalence countries – a good sign that prevention, treatment and care strategies are working. But what does ending AIDS actually mean? I think it means different things to different people, and frankly this might be a problem in the long run. I have heard various speakers explain different visions of an end to AIDS. Some have said it is about completely stopping mother-to-child HIV transmission around the world, for others it’s about preventing young people from acquiring the virus, others have talked of scaling up treatment as prevention, and others hope for a combination of all three and more.
The reality is that there are now eight million people on treatment in low to middle income countries, which is fantastic, but there are many more millions of people who are going to need treatment for many more years to come. We still have no vaccine or cure, and the goal posts for both keep shifting. There is less and less funding every year. The activist in me feels that the talk of an end to AIDS may further stifle investment in HIV right when we need it the most.
Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma is an Advocacy and Networks Officer for the Community Health & HIV team at Christian Aid. Winnie has also been living with HIV for almost 25 years.Tagged in: AIDS, health, HIV, International AIDS Conference
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