By Kevin Osborne (IPPF)
With increasing availability and options of effective antiretroviral treatment, people living with HIV are living longer and the population of people who are HIV positive is steadily growing older. Ageing is an inevitable process for us all, but what are the consequences of long-term HIV infection and treatment?
The face of HIV has altered dramatically over the past decade. A combination of earlier diagnosis, ART treatment adherence, and awareness of healthier lifestyle options translates into a drastically increased life expectancy for many people living with HIV. Globally, many people have now been living with the virus for over twenty years – some because they were born with HIV and others because they are long-term survivors of the epidemic. This unchartered territory raises many new and important issues about how long-term HIV infection and treatment affects the natural ageing process.
As people living with HIV grow older, they will have a unique set of clinical and psycho-social needs that need to be addressed in a more sustained and systematic manner. In the United Kingdom a recent study specifically investigated the needs, concerns and characteristics of people aged 50 and over who are living with HIV. Beyond health-related issues, a number of other challenges including financial and social wellbeing should increasingly be taken into consideration.
Many questions related to how older age affects the natural progression of HIV infection and the body’s response to long term treatment still remain unanswered. Clinicians and health practitioners are increasingly confronted by additional issues - from managing the expected and routine issues facing the over 50s living with HIV to dealing with some of the consequences of long-term ART use and resistance. It is clear that both providers and clients are entering a new phase in holistic health for people living with HIV.
As more people are living longer and healthier lives with HIV, IPPF Member Associations will have to find creative and innovative ways of meeting their sexual and reproductive health needs - from providing additional psycho-social support; strengthened integration with other health and care services for older adults to forging new partnerships with organizations specifically working with older adults.
Download the September issue of the IPPF HIV Update newsletter: http://www.ippf.org/en/Resources/Newsletters/HIV+Update+Issue+27.htm