Dar es Salaam, 1 December 2016: Older people must be included in prevention, treatment, care and support, says HelpAge International on World AIDS Day, as a new UNAIDS report reveals how more and more people are living into older age with HIV.
In 2015, the number of people aged 50 and over living with HIV was 5.8 million, according to a new UNAIDS report. If treatment targets are reached, the number is expected to soar to 6.9 million by 2020.
HIV is becoming a chronic condition and when managed, people with the virus can expect to live a normal lifespan. Yet it continues to have a significant economic, social, health and psychological impact on older women and men across Tanzania.
As more people access treatment and age with HIV, they are more susceptible to age-associated non-communicable diseases, which in turn hasten the progression of HIV. Older people living with HIV are at a five times greater risk of chronic diseases.
HelpAge is joining UNAIDS' call for a comprehensive strategy to respond to the increasing long-term healthcare costs associated with a growing population of older people with HIV.
The issue of new infections is still present in Tanzania and the wider region. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for the majority (67%) of new HIV cases among men and women aged 50 and over globally.
This age group accounted for 11% of new HIV infections in three locations in eastern Africa and 5% in six locations in southern Africa, the UNAIDS report reveals.
Despite this, older people are largely invisible in the national HIV and AIDS data collection, analysis and reporting. As a result, there is limited information on HIV prevalence, and access to care and treatment for people 50 and over.
"HelpAge continues to advocate for the inclusion of people aged 50 and over in HIV prevention, and care and treatment responses to ensure the 'leave no one behind' commitment of the Sustainable Development Goals is really put into practice," said Juliana Benard, HIV and AIDS Programme Manager at HelpAge International in Tanzania.
With funding from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), HelpAge has been implementing a project in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and South Africa for the past two years to draw attention to the growing number of older people living with HIV.
It focuses on strengthening the evidence that can be used to call for increased care and treatment services by all stakeholders, including governments, and empowers older people to step up their own prevention efforts.
Sixty-three-year-old Fatuma Rajabu, from Korogwe district in north-east Tanzania, said the project has increased awareness of HIV among older people in her community.
"Before the project, all HIV and AIDS-related illnesses were believed to be associated with witchcraft, so we did not bother to seek medical attention. As a result, new infection rates were very high in the community," she said.
"Through this project we were trained on different HIV issues and most of us decided to go for HIV counselling and testing. Those of us living with the virus have formed self-help groups where we exchange information and encourage each other to access care and treatment services."
The global success in reducing the number of AIDS-related deaths, and significant progress in HIV prevention and treatment, gives hope that ending AIDS as a public health by 2030 is achievable, and we will see an AIDS free generation. But we are not there yet, and a sustained response to HIV that includes older people remains crucial.
Henry Mazunda, Communications Officer, HelpAge International Tanzania
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About HelpAge International
HelpAge International is a global network which helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. Our work is strengthened through our global network of like-minded organisations - the only one of its kind in the world.