World AIDS Day: Tanzania leads way in HIV tests for older people

29/11/2010

On 1 December people around the world gather to commemorate World AIDS Day.

Many will do so feeling optimistic as the findings in this year's UNAIDS Global Report, published on 23 November, showed a decline in new infections and AIDS-related deaths and an increase in the number of people receiving treatment.

A woman is tested for HIV for World Aids Day HelpAge gives an older woman a free HIV test for World Aids Day last year HelpAge International 2009

While progress is most definitely being made, the Universal Access targets set in 2006 and expiring in 2010 have not been met and many people living with and affected by HIV are still unable to access the services they need.

A major challenge for older people living with HIV is late diagnosis.

Research undertaken in France has shown older people are more likely to have HIV diagnosed late. This is likely due to older people not thinking they are at risk and health professionals being less likely to recommend an HIV test for older people.

Data from developing countries also suggests a lack of access to counselling and testing for older people.

Data from Swaziland and Botswana show older people are less likely to have undergone counselling and testing than younger age groups. In Swaziland, 82% of women over 50 have never been tested compared to 60% of women under 50.

Free testing on World AIDS Day

To address these challenges, on last year's World AIDS Day HelpAge International ran a testing campaign for older people in Tanzania.

More than 500 older people in the Tanga region were counselled and had an HIV test. 31 tested positive.

HelpAge International and its partners have continued to provide counselling to those found to be living with HIV and have helped to ensure access to anti retroviral therapy (ART) when necessary.

Following the success of the campaign and the high demand from older people for access to testing, HelpAge will have a follow-on campaign to mark World AIDS Day 2010.

This year HelpAge will offer counselling and testing to older people in both the Tanga and Morogoro regions and hope to reach 1500 older people.

"Older people must know their status"

Mathew Kawogo of HelpAge International in Tanzania is keen for the event to grow each year.

He said: "Through reaching older people with counselling and testing services HelpAge is raising awareness amongst older people that, like any other population group, they can be affected by the epidemic.

"Knowing their status is the first step in accessing the treatment, care, support and HIV services they need."

Halima Mohamed, 78, described how she felt about the service. She said: "I am happy this counselling and testing service is here and relieved to know I am HIV and AIDS negative. I have cared for my children who died of this disease."

Frank Masanja, 73, said: "This is my first time to participate in World AIDS Day and to come to this centre. It would be worth having a counselling and testing centre here regularly, not just for World AIDS Day."

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