September 18 marks National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day (NHAAD) — a national commemoration highlighting the growing number of older Americans living with HIV and their needs as a community.
NHAAD 2022 — the fifteenth observance of this day, which was first launched by the AIDS Institute in 2008 — holds critical importance in raising awareness about #HIVandAging and understanding this growing population.
Worldwide, an estimated 3.6 million people living with HIV are 50+ years old. About one in four adults living with HIV in the US are aged 50 or older, and an estimated 18% of new HIV diagnoses occur in those aged 50 and older.
There are several reasons that we can point to explain the growth in this population.
- Lack of consistent testing and awareness: Those over 50 years of age tend to be less open with their doctors about their sexual health, according to the AIDS Institute, and less likely to get tested and/or know their status. That means some who are HIV+ are unaware that they are living with the virus, are not receiving proper treatment, and, in turn, are more likely to infect others.
- Ongoing, persistent stigmatization: To this day, those living with HIV face deeply rooted stigma from others based on their status due to a lack of consistent education around the virus, deeply ingrained fear-mongering and painful homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia. On top of that, stigma, ageism, and judgments about older individuals by other age groups can worsen matters and create a one-two punch of marginalization.
- Writing off symptoms due to age: Bodies change, and sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between the aches and pains that can come with growing older and the physical manifestations of living untreated with the virus. This further highlights the importance of everyone who is sexually active getting tested routinely regardless of their age.
- Advancements in treatment options: We have come a long way in terms of medical research and treatment tools since the virus’s beginnings. With innovations in antiretroviral therapy (ART, a cocktail of medications used to treat those living with HIV), anyone who is HIV+ can better maintain their health and become “undetectable.” Being “undetectable” means that if someone living with HIV has a consistently undetectable level of the virus in their blood when tested, they cannot transmit HIV to their sexual partner(s). Undetectable = Untransmittable!
With all the factors above, we come to a crossroads as a community, and we need to work to ensure those above 50 living with HIV are supported, have access to the appropriate treatment and prevention plans, and know that they are not alone.
Here are a few things you can do right now:
- Getting tested regularly for HIV (and COVID-19!) and ensuring those in your life, especially if they are 50+, get tested, too.
- Sharing this article to your social media networks with the hashtag #HIVandAging
- Look into local volunteer opportunities through DC Health and more.
- Practicing safer sex regardless of age as often as possible.
- Exploring and informing others of prevention methods like PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and PeP (post-exposure prophylaxis).
This work to raise awareness and eradicate the stigma impacting those living with HIV regardless of their age is paramount. So, this National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, it’s on all of us to come together, educate people and destigmatize living with the virus.