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UK: Older people living with HIV face stigma

Thursday, 12 September, 2013

A two-year study looking at the experiences of 100 people living with HIV aged between 50 and 80 in the UK has revealed that many feel marginalised.

The research was undertaken by Keele and Westminster universities, Chelsea and Westminster, and Homerton University Hospital, South Kensington and Chelsea Mental Health Centre, and Public Health England, to have a greater understanding of HIV and later life.

One fifth of adults currently taking antiretroviral ( ARV) treatment in the UK are over the age of 50, many of whom have been living with the virus for a long period of time, staying healthy due to antiretroviral treatment. We are, however, increasingly seeing new HIV infections among this age bracket and a growing proportion of over-50s with HIV have been recently infected.

Although the UK has a relatively small HIV and AIDS epidemic in comparison with other parts of the world, it’s far from an issue of the past. In fact, the epidemic has expanded, with the annual number of new HIV diagnoses nearly tripling between 1996 and 2005, when the annual rate peaked at almost 8,000 diagnoses.

Annual diagnoses have slightly declined since then with 6,280 people diagnosed HIV positive in 2011. An estimated 96,000 people were living with HIV in the UK at the end of 2011, translating to around 1.5 people per 1000 of the population.

The study on HIV and later life highlights the challenges older people face in the context of an epidemic that is widely associated with young people. The principal investigator of the study stated: “the older population living with HIV feel invisible. Many feel there is nothing out there about them and nothing for them”.

The research reveals the anxiety and shame voiced by those interviewed, as a result of stigma and a lack of understanding of their situation from their family and friends. As HIV is linked to promiscuity, it is often seen as “undignified” and “inappropriate” in later life.

This research highlights the urgent need for more targeted information about HIV for older people and age-specific support to those who are living with HIV. In particular, there is a need in the UK to improve HIV awareness of this age group; that they are still at risk of HIV infection and should not engage in risky behaviours.