World AIDS Day: HIV services not equipped for rapidly ageing AIDS epidemic


HIV-positive older woman at a day centre and health provider in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (c) Judith Escribano/Age International

(c) Judith Escribano/Age International

HIV-positive older woman at a day centre and health provider in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

By Ben Small

As access to anti-retroviral treatment (ART) grows, the population living with HIV is rapidly ageing, yet care services are ill-equipped for older people.
Nearly 16 million people across the globe have access to ART, according to UNAIDS, which is double the figure in 2010. New HIV infections have also reduced 35% since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths have fallen 42% following its peak in 2004. On World AIDS Day, these numbers are a huge cause for celebration. 
However, with more people living longer with HIV, there are more and more people aged over 50 who have the condition – growing from 3.6 million to 5.5 million in the last three years. HIV is fast becoming a chronic condition and services are not keeping up.
"HIV services are still not equipped to address the needs of older people and need to be more integrated in care systems for other chronic diseases," said Rachel Albone, Health and Care Policy Advisor at HelpAge International.
"Alongside care and treatment, prevention is also key, as demonstrated by the 120,000 people aged 50 and over who become newly infected with HIV each year.
"What is needed now are clear strategies to target older people with appropriate services, supported by an enabling national policy environment, specific commitments, targets and budgets."
Older woman in Ethiopia receiving HIV peer education (c) Jeff Williams/HelpAge International

(c) Jeff Williams/HelpAge International

Older woman in Ethiopia receiving HIV peer education

She recommends adopting an approach that combines the UNAIDS strategy of focusing on HIV services with goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. This encompassing objective aims to “deliver healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages”, and sits comfortably alongside UNAIDS' vision of "getting to zero".
"We must ensure no one, including older women and men, is left behind in either our efforts to end AIDS once and for all or to achieve the SDGs," said Albone.

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