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World AIDS Day 2013: Our work to tackle HIV

29 Nov 2013

Thokozile, 67, traditional health practitioner, Durban, South Africa. (c) Zonke Majola/HelpAge International In 2008 HelpAge embarked on a five year journey to address the impact of HIV on older people and their families. With funding from the UK Big Lottery Fund, we worked with partners in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda to raise awareness of the risks of HIV for older people and how they could access services and support.

We also supported older people to address and overcome some of the challenges HIV posed for themselves and their families.

Tackling the impact of HIV

Over the last five years we have worked in a variety of ways with older people to tackle the impact of HIV. These include:

  • providing information and education on HIV,
  • ensuring older people test for HIV and know their status,
  • supporting them to set up small businesses and provide an income for their families,
  • writing wills and memory books with their family histories, stories and wishes for the future,
  • raising awareness of the rights and entitlements of older people and orphaned and vulnerable children, particularly their rights to inherit property and land,
  • informing traditional health practitioners (THPs) about HIV, how it affects older people and the importance of referring clients to health services for testing and treatment,
  • training home-based caregivers, including older caregivers, to provide effective high quality care and support to their families and communities,
  • advocating for the inclusion of older people in HIV strategies, data and programmes.

Evaluating success and learning lessons

As we finalised the programme this year, we evaluated and reflected on what we had learnt, and crucially what we had achieved with older people. Having visited each of the five programme sites over the last five years I have also seen first-hand the impact of our activities.

To mark World AIDS Day this year, we are sharing some of the successes we are most proud of!

Firstly, we have vastly increased numbers of older people who are aware of their HIV status – the first step to accessing services and support to live positively with HIV. Figures increased from 30% in 2008 to 80% in 2013.

One approach that helped us achieve this success was our work with older peer educators. We developed a training manual and have equipped hundreds of older people with the information they need to inform and support their peers.

Peer educators in Kenya

I saw the outcome of this training first hand in Thika, Kenya, where, during my visit, a group of older peer educators was meeting to plan and rehearse their latest play – using drama as a way to provide information about HIV and how it affects older people.

In Ethiopia our training manual is being adopted by the Government for use in its peer education training, ensuring peer educators have the specific information they need to educate older people and the work we have started will continue.

Working with traditional health practitioners in South Africa

During a 2011 programme workshop in South Africa the team visited our programme sites in KwaZulu Natal and went to the homes of THPs. Having seen our videos with THPs talking about their work it was fascinating to be with them in person to hear about how the training HelpAge has provided with our affiliate Muthande has changed the way they practice.

The THPs showed us how they use gloves, measure and label their medicines and talked us through the advice they give to their clients. With THPs often the first port of call for older people in need of health care, this work to ensure their service is of high quality has been crucial.

Paralegals in Uganda

In 2012 we made the long journey to Kasese, Uganda to see the work of paralegals in helping to protect the rights of older people and the children in their care.

One of my highlights was hearing a police officer "complaining" that his jail is now empty because the paralegals are able to resolve inheritance disputes at the community level and there has been a significant reduction in case load of the justice system.

Discrimination and HIV

A final overriding memory of the programme for me will be my conversations with older women who were willing to share their stories about the discrimination and abuse they were facing because of their age and HIV status.

Those conversations live with me, and HelpAge's moving film depicting their stories, are the reminder to not only celebrate our success but also focus on what we still have to do.

2013 has been an important year for HelpAge's HIV work. We look forward to building on it next year and beyond!

Find out more about our HIV and AIDS work in our project scrapbook.

Watch our animation "Age, sex and HIV".

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Author profile

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.