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HelpAge marks World AIDS Day: HIV and ageing in Africa

09 Dec 2011

The Gamo Ethnic dance group performs at the conferenceLast week, HelpAge’s ICASA pre-conference on HIV and ageing in Africa took place. The conference has been in the planning for many months and we are pleased to report it was a great success!

The first day started with a session which focused on data collection for those aged 50 and over. We talked about the challenges of the way the epidemic is monitored at the international level. Survey templates and UN reporting guidelines still focus on those aged 15-49.

However, the small amount of data we do have shows that increasing numbers of older people are living with HIV. This issue can’t continue to be ignored.

Urgent need to take action

Our friends from the University of Sydney presented their analysis of survey data in Africa, which shows approximately 13% of people living with HIV in Africa are aged 50 and above.

The Erasmus University in the Netherlands, presented data - in its final stages of analysis - which suggests that the number of people aged 50 and over living with HIV in Africa may triple by 2040.

This means there could be approximately nine million older people living with HIV in Africa in 30 year's time! Surely this proves it’s time to act?

During a break, we were joined by the Gamo Ethnic dance group, a group of older people from Ethiopia who performed a traditional dance. Fully energised, we went into our session on the health challenges older women and men living with HIV face.

"Sex is like food. You don't say because I am old, I don't eat!"

During this session we discussed older people’s sexual behaviour. Research from Ugandan participants showed that older men were unlikely to seek treatment for STIs because young nurses make them uncomfortable. It also showed older people are less likely to use condoms because they think they are only necessary to prevent pregnancy.

The session generated a lot of interesting discussion with a clear message coming from many of our older participants... Older people do have sex! As Ruth, a 64-year-old woman living with HIV in Kenya commented: “Sex is like food. You don’t say because I am old, I don’t eat.”

Our afternoon session focused on potential responses to HIV and ageing. One presentation by Mildmay International showed that older women and men are diagnosed with HIV much later than younger people.

Issues faced by older carers

After a good night’s rest (for our participants, if not for us!), we moved on to our second day. George, a grandfather and older carer from Kenya, opened the day by sharing his personal experience.

Older people's experience and knowledge of HIV must be included in the response to the epidemicHe provided a powerful reminder of the contribution older people make by caring for family and community members and their need for support.

The first presentation looked at relationships between older carers and the children they care for. Much of this discussion centred on the fact that grandparents struggle to communicate with their grandchildren in the role of parents.

With regards to this issue, we heard about a project which trains grandmothers to use Facebook to understand how to relate to their grandchildren.

We then looked at the economic needs of older carers. Here, the importance of pensions in supporting older people to care for their families emerged. One presentation showed that 55% of the pension in Namibia is actually spent on the children within older people’s households.

Platform to share older people's experience

The most important part of the pre-conference was ensuring older women and men who are living with HIV or care for others were present to share their knowledge and experience.

As an older male participant from Kenya stated: “Invite people like us because we have more knowledge.”

We were privileged to be joined by older women and men from all over Africa. Their participation focused all our minds and energies on the task at hand.

What next?

Your comments

Irina Baicaliv

This analysis of survey data in Africa shows lot of people living with HIV are aged 50 and above. I am thinking that such picture we will have in Europe during next 10 years. Irina Baicalov. NGO "Second Breath".

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Rachel Albone
Job title: Global Adviser - Health and Care

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