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HIV statistics and targets exclude older people putting millions of people at risk.

06 Jun 2011

Millions of older people care for someone living with HIVFive years ago, the international community working
in HIV and AIDS set a target of "universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support".

This week that community is meeting again, at the UN High Level Meeting, to review the world's progress in responding to the HIV epidemic and to agree the way forward.

But how can a response be effective when the global picture of the epidemic is skewed - missing out an entire set of people so acutely affected by it?

I am, of course, talking about older people who are left out of HIV statistics and targets.

New infections have led to increasing numbers of people aged 50 and over living with HIV.

However, this has not been recognised.

Neither the 2001 Declaration of Commitment, signed ten years ago at the groundbreaking UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS), nor the UN's 2006 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS makes any reference to older people living with HIV.

In adopting the 2001 Declaration, member states committed that every two years they would report their progress in responding to the epidemic to the UN General Assembly, against 25 core indicators.

But none of these indicators explicitly includes people aged 50 and over, or requests HIV statistics to be broken down by age.

Three indicators - on access to testing, higher risk sex and condom use - are specifically restricted to people aged 15-49.

Requests for prevalence data are also limited to the 15-49 year age group.

Some countries provided HIV statistics

In 2010, member states submitted progress reports.

An analysis of the 119 reports submitted in English shows that some countries are submitting HIV statistics on people aged 50 and over, even though they are not required to do so.

The figures are startling - showing just how at risk older people are of infection. You can read some of the statistics at the bottom of this post.

Because there is no official requirement on how to present HIV statistics on older people, there is no consistency in the way countries do this.

But in total 57 of the 119 reports present HIV statistics on older people (or state that statistics are available) or make other references to older people - reflecting a growing understanding at national level that this age group needs to be given attention.

Despite this, UNAIDS' 2010 Global Report on the AIDS epidemic, which is based on the reports submitted by country governments, does not include any HIV statistics on people aged 50 and over, or make any other reference to older people, either as carers or as people living with HIV.

Why should older people be included in HIV statistics?

The fact is older people are hugely affected by HIV - as carers of family members with HIV and orphaned children, and as people at risk of infection themselves.

Millions of older men and women care for sons and daughters who are living with HIV or for orphaned grandchildren.

In Cambodia, 80% of adult children (who subsequently died of AIDS) were cared for by an older parent.[i]

In east and southern Africa, 40-60% of children orphaned as a result of AIDS are cared for by their grandparents, usually their grandmothers.[ii]

If older people are ignored in the response, how can the children in their care be properly fed, clothed and educated? How can they advise young people about safer sex or protect themselves? How can they receive the treatment, care and support they need?

The absence of older people in HIV statistics at global level implies there is no data at all and no recognition by governments of older people's issues.

It means no attention is paid to older people in the response to HIV, meaning many are unable to access services and support.

There is a clear mismatch between what is reported nationally and what is presented at global level.

It is crucial, therefore, that older people are recognised at this week's UN high-level meeting, and that they are included in any subsequent outcome document and any new commitments and targets, so that every single country has to include older people in its HIV statistics collection and programmes.

[i] Committed to caring: older women and HIV & AIDS in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, Chiang Mai, HelpAge International, 2007, p.14

[ii] The state of the worlds children report: women and children, the double dividend of gender equality, UNICEF, 2007

Striking new HIV statistics

Where figures are presented by countries, they provide striking evidence of how older people are at risk from the epidemic:

  • In Dominica, 17% of cumulative cases of AIDS (all cases diagnosed since the start of the epidemic) have been in people aged 50 and over.
  • In the Netherlands, 28% of people living with HIV are aged 50 and over, and in Sweden and Barbados, 25 per cent.
  • In Botswana, men aged 50-54 have the highest prevalence after the 35-39 and 40-44 year age groups, at just under 30 per cent (exact figures not given).
  • In Swaziland, 28% of men aged 50-54 have HIV, compared with 20 per cent of men aged 15-49.
  • In Sweden, 25% of newly reported cases of HIV and AIDS are in people aged 50 and over.
  • In China, 11% of new HIV cases in 2009 were in people aged 50-64 and 4 per cent in people were aged 65 and over.

Some countries have collected HIV statistics on older people against the three indicators focused on the 15-49 year age group. For example:

  • In Mozambique, the proportion of people tested for HIV who were 50 or over increased from 5% in 2006 to 7 per cent in 2009.
  • In South Africa, the proportion of people aged 50 and over who use a condom has increased since 2005, although people in this age group are far less likely to use a condom than younger people.

What next?

  • Keep up to date on HelpAge's HIV campaigning and project work by signing up to our enewsletters.
  • Watch our animation on how older women are not included in HIV data, policies or strategies.

Your comments


Thank you for your initiative to provide us with this information. May you keep up with the spirit.It is very important to us.

Lungi Mbodlo

Hi am working at wits reproductive health and hiv research institute fof University of Witswatersrand of South Africa. Am working as a Data quality improvement mentor focusing on HAST(HIV/Aids and sexually transmitted infection and TB collaboration , PMTCT ,HCT MCWH etc. Therefore am interested to work and explore in your department. I will be delighted if ou can allowme to send you my CV in this regard thank you in advane


Hi Lungi, thanks for your comment. All the jobs we have available are on the website. In South Africa we work through our partner MUSA, their email is msfta@saol.com, maybe you could contact them. Sarah (from HelpAge)


thank you

aaima navid

thank you so much for your information. I too agree that the adult population for HIV should also be recognized.

musa abdullah bala

my name is musa abdullah bala from nigeria.I really admire your effort and courage in proving information like this, actually am writing my final year project on hiv/aids with a major in statistics.It is not easy to do what you're doing it takes a lot of time, patient and most importantly sacrifice to provide a large amount of information thank you very much and keep up the work.

Rachel Albone

Thanks for your comments and support Musa. Good luck with your studies. Hopefully you will be able to include older people in your data and analysis!



Katemba Edison Kakitahi

The general population still thinks HIV is something that came in the 80s in form witchcraft and so it can be played a round spiritually, that is according to African Traditional Society set up. From Kampala Uganda

Enock Kaye

Thank you.I hope it will assist me in the research i am going to conduct

mariam abdi mapembe

thank you for your advices and for this website that helps us to prevent our societies from hiv/aids. from st.jude school tanzania that it helped me write ma ICT project on HIV/AIDS statistics of different countries. Thanx a lot.

Harriet Kamashanyu

This is so inspiring... Am also part of the HIV fight amongst sex workers.... And i still admit stigmatization and discrimination from the social services is still paramount.. Bravo. How can be part of your stuggle.. Harriet

Arulrlaj Louis

While we were thinking that only people in the age group of 15-49 are at risk, your article throws light about the older people. I do hope that powers that be will look into this and do the needful.

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Rachel Albone
Job title: HIV and AIDS Policy Advisor

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