World AIDS Day 2009; largest share of new infections in Africa are older couples

29 November 2009

As people around the world commemorate World AIDS Day this year, some may feel some cautious optimism, as the new global figures for HIV and AIDS were released.

Last week UNAIDS and WHO published the AIDS 2009 Epidemic Update. 

According to the report, the number of new HIV infections around the world has dropped by 17 per cent in the past eight years.

However, the new report highlights that the largest share of new infections in sub Saharan Africa are occurring among older heterosexual couples

Rachel Albone is the policy adviser for HIV and AIDS at HelpAge International. She says

"This year the theme of World AIDS Day is universal access and human rights. Despite the target of universal access, the response to HIV and AIDS around the world rarely includes older people.  As the 2009 AIDS report highlights, few prevention programmes have specifically focused on older adults.  The reports and data demonstrating progress towards achieving the target still focus largely on the 15-49 year age group, leading to the further neglect of older people and perpetuating the myth that HIV is simply a young person's disease that doesn't affect older people.  It implies that no-one over 49 is at risk, as if no-one over 49 has sex!

Many studies show that older people are less likely than younger people to practice safe sex, one reason being perhaps that the threat of pregnancy has gone. Older people then need different types of prevention material than that given to young people.

And older people are not only living with and affected by HIV, but like other population groups, they suffer stigma and discrimination and violations of their human rights because of their or their family members HIV status."

In addition, millions of grandparents around the world and specifically in Africa are caring for their sick adult children and orphaned grandchildren.  The huge contribution these older carers make to the response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic remains largely unrecognized, and is not addressed in this new report.

Rachel Albone concluded

"HelpAge International is very clear what needs to be done;

UNAIDS must address this specific issue in 2010.  Any new targets and commitments made in the HIV and AIDS response in 2010 must meaningfully include older people in recognition of the impact of HIV and AIDS on their lives." 


Notes for Editors

HelpAge International works globally with older people's groups that daily witness the discrimination that accompanies HIV and AIDS.

We have case studies and photographs on the following;

In Tanzania, older women are accused of witchcraft if a member of their family has HIV.  These older women, doing their best to care for their families with few resources and very little support, face ostracism from their communities, violence and even death for supposedly bewitching their relatives and bringing AIDS into their communities.

In Vietnam where the epidemic is predominantly drug related with injecting drug users accounting for more than 50% of recorded infections, older people face the dual stigma on having children that use drugs and are living with HIV.  Many keep their children's HIV status a secret and isolate themselves from their communities and potential support networks, for fear of how people will react and how they will be treated.

Older men and women suffer abuses of their inheritance rights as a result of HIV and AIDSIn Uganda, younger family and community members claim older people's land as their own and try to remove them from their homes, sometimes through threats and physical force.  Many of these older people care for orphaned children and their disinheritance results in them having nowhere to live and no land to farm for food for themselves and their grandchildren.

HelpAge International is a global network of organisations helping older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives.

For more information about our programmes and spokespeople contact Rosaleen Cunningham, Media Coordinator on +44 (0) 207 1487623 or

Recent photographs of our HIV and AIDS programmes with case studies can be found at For higher resolution photos please contact Rosaleen Cunningham, above.

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