15 November 2012

Uganda: Even the Elderly Need HIV Testing, Counselling


A growing number of older persons are being infected and are infecting the other generations with HIV. Individuals from the age of 50 and above contribute a large percentage to the total population of people living with HIV in Uganda.

Medical personnel find HIV more often than ever before in older people and because of improved treatment, people live longer.

Many people do not bear the symptoms in the early stages of infection. It can take a few weeks for minor symptoms to appear or 10 years for severe ones.

Signs of HIV- positive include headache, cough, diarrhoea, swollen glands, loss of appetite, weight loss, fevers, yeast infections and skin rash. But why are there many more cases of HIV in the elderly than before?

One reason is that health workers rarely test older people for HIV. Other times, during routine check-ups, the older people do not go for testing.

Thirdly, most of the older people have a misconception about HIV. For example general body weakness is considered as part of aging. In addition, some are stigmatised and are afraid of being tested. Persons aged 50-plus can live with HIV for a number of years when they are not aware they are infected. And by the time they are diagnosed with HIV, the virus has progressed into fatal stages.

The number of HIV infections among the older people is deemed to increase even more because:

lOlder Ugandans are less interested in knowing about their HIV status compared to the young people.

lMost of the elderly do not know how HIV spreads or the rationale of using condoms, sharing needles, getting tested and going for counselling.

lIn most cases, health workers rarely sensitise older people about HIV prevention.

Any person suffering from HIV/AIDS becomes depressed.

This is the same problem for older people who do not have a strong network of friends or family to help. At the same time, they face a challenge of coping with other diseases common to aging like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems. As the virus continues to spread, they need more help to get around.

The Government and all stakeholders involved in the fight against AIDS should raise awareness among the elderly and not only focus on the youth.

The writer is an HIV/AIDS activist

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