The United Nations will fail to meet its target of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010 if older people continue to be excluded from global responses to the pandemic, two charities warned on Monday.
In a joint statement issued to coincide with the World AIDS Day which falls on December 1, Help Age International (HI) and Help the Aged said the resulting lack of information on older people is placing millions in danger of contracting HIV as they fail to be targeted in testing and awareness-raising initiatives. They also suggests many more older people may be living with HIV undiagnosed.
"Despite the clear evidence that older people are living with HIV, there remains a false and dangerous assumption that people over 50 no longer have sexual relationships. The omission of older people from key data collected by UNAIDS is perpetuating this," said Rachel Albone, HIV and AIDS policy adviser at Help Age International.
The organization said the UN's most recent estimates show that some 2.8 million people aged 50 and over are living with HIV, equating to 1 in 14 of the total number infected worldwide.
Yet key data used by UNAIDS to measure impact and the spread of infection, specifically related to number of sexual partners and condom use, is not collected for those over the age of 49.
"Where older people are not included in HIV testing initiatives, many are diagnosed only when they eventually develop an AIDS-related illness. At this late stage, the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy is significantly compromised," said Albone.
Recent statistics from the Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey 2007 revealed that prevalence of HIV among people aged 50-54 in Kenya is 8 per cent, almost doubling that among 15-24 year olds who are often a key target group for policy and program response.
Adequate recognition and support for older carers for those affected by HIV and AIDS is another area lacking in global response to the pandemic.
Help the Aged estimates that up to half of the 15 million children worldwide who have been orphaned by AIDS are cared for by grandparents.
Yet none of the core indicators used by UNAIDS monitors the impact of caring on older people, leaving millions who are struggling with the significant financial, social and emotional strain of caring without sufficient support.
This in turn affects their ability to provide appropriate care for younger relatives living with HIV.
"Before the orphans came it was OK to sustain my wife and our immediate family. But now I have to buy everything - schoolbooks, clothes, food and look after the house. Three of the orphans are HIV-positive. When they are sick we have to buy their medicines," said the 73 year-old Peter from Uganda.
"When my wife and I are sick we have to pay a consultation fee as well as buy what the doctor prescribes, but if there is no money we go without. I am always worrying about how I am going to find enough money. It is a big responsibility with nobody to help me," added Peter who cares for nearly 30 children orphaned by AIDS.
As part of its Age Demands Action campaign, Help Age International and Help the Aged are calling on the UN to include older people in its HIV and AIDS monitoring data.
"In his statement on World AIDS Day 2007, (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki Moon restated UN's mission to ensure universal access to all people -- wherever they live, whatever they do. Unfortunately, this seems to include everyone except older people. Until all age-groups are targeted in the global response to HIV and AIDS, the goal of achieving universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010 remains a fantasy," said Richard Blewitt, Chief Executive of HI.
"Given that the theme of this year's World AIDS Day is leadership, we hope the UN will show leadership itself by revising its indicators to help end the exclusion of older people in the fight against HIV and AIDS."