Despite the fact that there is very little information on HIV infection rates among seniors, older adults are sexually active and are becoming infected by the disease.
That was the assertion of Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development, Steven Blackett, while speaking today at a seminar entitled Safe Today???Healthy Tomorrow at the Accra Beach Resort.
???We need to dispel the myth that the elderly do not contract HIV. The primary mode of transmission of the virus is the same for older people as it is for younger people, that is, through unprotected sexual contact,??? he contended.
Minister Blackett noted that literature revealed that older persons were ???invisible??? in international data on HIV infection and prevalence, and that the issue was highlighted by the World Health Organization as a neglected area of study. However, he pointed out that infection among the elderly was very real and that statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States of America predict that by 2015, half the persons living with HIV in the USA will be over 50 years of age.
He added that another problem related to HIV and seniors was the fact that those persons were usually diagnosed in the later stages of the disease, when there was a more rapid progression to AIDS. Their survival rates were therefore lower when compared to younger persons.
???Some early signs of the disease, such as fatigue, weight loss and mental confusion, may be diagnosed as normal signs of ageing. This situation is compounded by the fact that older persons are more susceptible to chronic non-communicable diseases and their attendant ills???, the Minister stated.
He explained that Government, through his ministry and the social service agencies under its ambit, was committed to ensuring that affected households had access to psychosocial support in order to mitigate against poverty, marginalisation and discrimination. He added that a number of initiatives had been devised to educate seniors.
???The Ministry, in collaboration with the National Assistance Board (NAB), coordinated a series of HIV workshops for some of the seniors in the NAB???s Seniors??? Recreational Activities programme, cell groups and the wider senior community. Peer education was employed as a strategy to convey as well as to reinforce HIV messages. Age-sensitive HIV prevention messages were developed with and provided by older people themselves.
???In addition, the NAB has effectively utilised drama as a medium for education, and the HIV Drama Group, comprising older persons ranging in age from 50 to 92 years, have been using drama to raise the community awareness of HIV,??? Mr. Blackett said.
Addressing the theme of the seminar, the Minister also advised that it could only be operationalised when persons internalised the message, equipped themselves with the relevant knowledge, cultivated positive attitudes and engaged in appropriate behaviours, which would guarantee their safety.