Side-lined: Senior citizens living with HIV

Great strides have been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS and efforts are starting to bear the intended results - as the prevalence rate declines. However, senior citizens living with HIV say they are being neglected.

HIV testing.
HIV testing.

The government has concentrated its efforts and resources on a group of what they call the sexually active – deemed to be those between 15 – 49 years.

Gone are the days when being HIV positive was a ‘death sentence’. Many people are now living well into their sixties, thanks to advanced medication.

“Society and government have failed to implement strategies to deal with this new phenomenon. Imagine an old grandma waiting in the same queue at a clinic to get their anti-retroviral treatment with a 20-year-old.It’s very difficult even for young counsellor to talk to a senior citizen,” said Priscilla Gavi of Help Age, a non-profit organization which caters for the needs of senior citizens.

Under Zimbabwean law, a senior citizen is a person aged 60 years and above. However, ZimStatstatistics for people living with HIV show only males younger than 55 and females younger than 49.

“We regard people who are over the age categories of 55 for males and 49 for females to be not sexually active. In fact we just blanketed that they would be in menopause,” said ZimStat official.

“But we are sexually active – even at the age of 80,” said one senior citizen.

Harare-based medical doctor Mlungisi Ndebele said the body of humans was designed to be sexually active until the time of death.

“The sexual libido decreases, but senior citizens still enjoy sex and they need to be taught of safe sex methods because we have witnessed a number of cases where this group of people engages in risky sexual behaviour,” said Mlungisi.

The World Health Organization says the number of cases of HIV/AIDS among older people is higher than generally thought, and rarely included in demographic health surveys.

“We have been a bit surprised to find that the proportion of individuals aged 50 years and older with HIV infection is about one-quarter to one-third that of the younger age groups, which to us is a somewhat surprisingly high proportion,” saidWHO Medical Officer, George Schmidt.

People infected with HIV between ages five and14 can expect to live more than 13 years; whereas, this declines to four years in those infected at age 65 or older.

“Physicians need to heighten their awareness that older individuals can have risk factors for HIV infection and discuss those risk factors, including sexual activity with older individuals,” he said.

Post published in: News

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