World AIDS Day: HelpAge takes action across Africa


By Sarah Marzouk

To mark World AIDS Day 2012 and ensure that older people are not forgotten in the HIV response, HelpAge is planning a day of campaigning and action with partners across Africa.

World AIDS Day is held each year on 1 December. It is an opportunity for people around the world to unite in the global response to the epidemic, show their support for people living with HIV and remember those who have died. An older woman is tested for HIV in Ethiopia For the HIV response to be effective, older people must be included in prevention, treatment and care programmes. (c) Jeff Williams/HelpAge International

The theme this year is "Getting to Zero - Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS-Related Deaths".

Major progress has been made in these areas according to the UNAIDS 2012 Global AIDS Epidemic Report, which highlights a decrease in new HIV cases of more than 50% across 25 countries.

Progress for older people?

However, our work supporting older people affected by HIV and AIDS shows that this success does not always have an impact on the lives of older people.

For example, data on new HIV diagnoses is rarely disaggregated by age, so we do not know how many new cases are diagnosed in people aged 50 and over.

With regards to discrimination, we know that older people living with HIV face discrimination on several levels. Older women are particularly affected and often experience discrimination based on HIV status, age, sex and economic status.

Ageing of the HIV epidemic

The decrease in number of AIDS-related deaths highlighted in the report is of particular significance to older people. 

With improved treatment and access to antiretroviral therapy (ART), people all over the world are living longer with HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa it is estimated that around 14% of all people living with HIV are aged 50 and above.

Despite this ageing of the HIV epidemic, little is known about how HIV and AIDS interact with other common age-related health conditions, such as diabetes.

In our focus countries across Africa we will be marking World AIDS Day with events that draw attention to these issues.

World AIDS Day action across Africa

In Ethiopia, we are holding World AIDS Day conferences and workshops for older people and people with disabilities to improve their access to HIV services. We will also raise awareness of older people's issues through radio talk shows and adverts. Finally, there will be a World AIDS Day exhibition at the Addis Ababa Cultural and Theatre Hall.

In Tanzania, the focus will be on age-friendly prevention, treatment, care and support services for older people and those in their care. Older people will also march with banners to promote age-friendly messages on health and HIV and AIDS.

In Uganda, with our Affiliate URAA, we are calling for access to ART for older people, targeted HIV prevention information and for data to be disaggregated by age, sex and disability. This will be achieved, among other activities, through radio talk shows to increase awareness of older people's experiences with HIV and AIDS.

HelpAge Kenya and partners are organising free counselling and HIV testing sessions, as well as a free medical camp for older people. They are also organising an event with performances and speeches from older people that will advocate for the inclusion of older people in the HIV response.

Ruth Waryaro, one of our older spokespeople, will also be part of World AIDS Day celebrations in Kenya. She will share her experience of speaking about older people and HIV at the International AIDS conference, which was held in July this year in Washington DC.

Older people key to HIV response

This World AIDS Day, it is crucial that older people are not side-lined. They play a key role in the HIV response as carers to family and community members. Older people are also at risk of infection or are living with HIV.

They must be included in prevention programmes, have access to treatment and benefit from laws and programmes that ensure the protection of their human rights.

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