By Navdha Malhotra
To mark World AIDS Day this year, HelpAge organised a conference on HIV and Ageing in Africa on 2 and 3 December in Ethiopia. Organised in partnership with UNAIDS, WHO and the University of Sydney, it was held before the official ICASA 2011 conference (4-8 December).
The aim of the meeting was to discuss issues surrounding older people and HIV – either because they are living with the virus themselves or caring for others affected by HIV. The vast range of participants included policy makers, UN agencies, civil society, academics and older people.
Impact of HIV on older people ignored
The impact of HIV on older people remains largely ignored, as demonstrated by the limited amount of data available on those aged over 50. Unsurprisingly, older people were completely absent from the 2011 High Level Meeting, with no reference to ageing issues or their role as carers.
Our aim was to highlight that, however limited, the data available clearly demonstrates the urgent need to include older people in the HIV response. Participants from the University of Sydney's School of Public Health shared data which highlighted that 13% of people living with HIV in Africa are aged 50 and above.
Older people living with HIV at the conference shared the health challenges they face. Agnes Ogada, a 59-year-old participant living with HIV said: "As you grow old your immune system breaks down and with HIV it's even worse."
Discussing older people's exclusion from HIV awareness education, Agnes added: "Everyone
focuses on the sexually active younger age group but they are often having less sex than
Intergenerational care and support
The second day of the conference focused on issues faced by older carers, including their financial needs. Older people around the world support and care for those living with HIV and children orphaned as a result of HIV, when often they are at an age to be cared for themselves.
In some countries in east and southern Africa, 40-60% of children affected by AIDS are cared for by older people. A HelpAge report also highlighted that 80% of adult children in Cambodia (who subsequently died of AIDS) were cared for by an older parent.
The discussion was directed at grandparents who find themselves being parents again and struggle to communicate with the grandchildren in their care.
Many of the older carers shared the huge impact that this has on their economic, health and emotional wellbeing. The conference also highlighted the important role pensions can play in supporting older people who care for their families.
Older people's knowledge and experience
A key aspect of the conference was to ensure that older people living with HIV and caring for others were involved in the discussion.
Rachel Albone, HelpAge's HIV and AIDS Policy Adviser, said of the conference: "It was a great learning experience for many of the participants to hear directly from older people.
"Their experiences made the urgent need to include older people and ageing issues in the response to HIV even more evident."
Read our official statement on HIV and ageing from the conference.