Wednesday, 6 February 2008

AIDS programmes ignore the elderly

Despite the fact that people experience a deterioration in health as they age, and immune system compromise makes the elderly more vulnerable and the need for ARVs more urgent, the older population is largely ignored by current HIV/AIDS programmes and interventions said Dr Uche Azie, from Zimbabwe.

Dr Azie added that older population is likely to see a more dramatic effect to HIV infections and that care of infected elderly is more problematic as a result of existing diseases like diabetes.

Access to suitable nutrition for the elderly is made more difficult as they are usually less economically active, relying more on subsistence farming, and have a poor ability to make up for lost income due to illness, and are therefore also more susceptible to food insecurity.

Within the context of Zimbabwe the health of the elderly is further compromised by the fact that patient schemes are not structured for the elderly and they are expected to pay normal rates for medical care.
The impact of HIV/AIDS on the family structure in Africa also impacts on the elderly in two ways. The elderly are no longer able to rely on support from their children during old age, but instead, often become responsible for the care of their orphaned grandchildren.

The elderly are clearly neglected by HIV/AIDS policy and programmes, but they should be a key focus as they are primarily responsible for the care of AIDS orphans. The burden of caring for extended family members often results in a compromise in living standards, the sale of various assets from land to bicycles, the return to work of the retired, and in the worst cases the elderly resort to begging said Azie.

Older people are not represented at global, regional and country levels, and as a result the multi-sectoral responses to HIV/AIDS ignore the elderly, which according to Dr Azie is largely due to the fact that the elderly, who collect pensions, are seen as a cohort of dependent on the state rather than a response group in need of assistance and services.

In the face of PMTCT, and the focus on orphans, the youth, the 15-49 age-group, programmes totally bypass the elderly - even VCT is not offered to the elderly because of the perceived low risk of infection concluded Azie.

By Sharon Davis

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