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World AIDS Day: Older people must have access to HIV testing

01 Dec 2010

Today, 1 December, people around the world are gathering to mark World AIDS Day.

HIV and AIDS are still thought of as a 'younger persons'' illnesses but this World AIDS Day we want people to know that millions of older people are affected - either directly, or indirectly by having to care for sick children and then care for orphaned grandchildren.

Older people face a range of hard challenges from HIV and AIDS, usually stemming from being missed out of HIV and AIDS campaigns entirely.

HelpAge tests an older woman for HIV at World AIDS Day last year

Research in France has shown older people are more likely to have HIV diagnosed late. This is likely due to older people not thinking they are at risk and health professionals being less likely to recommend an HIV test for older people.

Data from Swaziland and Botswana show older people are less likely to have undergone counselling and testing than younger age groups. In Swaziland, 82% of women over 50 have never been tested compared to 60% of women under 50.

Free testing in Tanzania for World AIDS Day

To try and address this issue, for last year's World AIDS Day, HelpAge International ran a testing campaign for older people in Tanzania.

More than 500 older people in the Tanga region were counselled and had an HIV test. 31 tested positive.

HelpAge International and its partners have continued to provide counselling to those found to be living with HIV and have helped to ensure access to anti retroviral therapy (ART) when necessary.

Following the success of the campaign and the high demand from older people for access to testing, HelpAge will have a follow-on campaign to mark World AIDS Day 2010.

This year HelpAge will offer counselling and testing to older people in both the Tanga and Morogoro regions and hope to reach 1500 older people.

Mathew Kawogo of HelpAge International in Tanzania is keen for the event to grow each year.

He said: "Through reaching older people with counselling and testing services HelpAge is raising awareness amongst older people that, like any other population group, they can be affected by the epidemic.

"Knowing their status is the first step in accessing the treatment, care, support and HIV services they need."

Halima Mohamed, 78, described how she felt about the service. She said: "I am happy this counselling and testing service is here and relieved to know I am HIV and AIDS negative. I have cared for my children who died of this disease."

Frank Masanja, 73, said: "This is my first time to participate in World AIDS Day and to come to this centre. It would be worth having a counselling and testing centre here regularly, not just for World AIDS Day."

What else does HelpAge do to help older people affected by HIV and AIDS?

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Author profile

Gacheru Maina
Country: Kenya
Job title: Regional communications officer, HelpAge

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.