Over 1 million Americans are living with HIV and the number is growing. Advances in medication have not only increased the lifespan for people living with HIV, but also the quality of our lives. Despite this good news, it has also brought new challenges that were not anticipated back when being diagnosed with HIV carried a prognosis of a much shorter lifespan. One of the most surprising aspects of the domestic HIV epidemic is the number of people aging with HIV. Earlier this year, New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported that 75% people living with HIV in the city were 40 years old or older and 37% were 50 years of age and older. This phenomenon is not just taking place in New York City—similar demographic trends are being observed nationally. According to experts at Yale Medical school, is estimated that 50% of people living with HIV in the US will be 50 years old or more by 2017. Moreover, 31% of new HIV infections in the United States each year occur among those between the ages of 40 and 49 and 7% of new infections occur among those 50 years old and older.
This week the White House Office of National AIDS Policy convened a meeting on HIV and aging to discuss these demographic trends. The purpose of the meeting was to raise awareness about people who are aging with HIV or contracting HIV as seniors (>50 years of age); to explore unique clinical manifestations of HIV infection among older adults; to discuss existing services for seniors living with HIV and highlight successes as well as gaps; and to discuss targeted strategies for Federal and non-Federal stakeholders to realize the vision of the President’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The meeting was part of a series of discussions that have been convened at the White House over the past year, including meetings that have focused on women, youth, Latinos and other populations.
The White House HIV and aging meeting agenda included an epidemiological and clinical overview of older Americans (age 50 or older) by Dr. Amy Justice of Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Justice discussed findings from various research studies and the complications of managing a chronic infection and the commorbid conditions related to the aging process. This was followed by a panel discussion of people of various demographic backgrounds who are aging with HIV, and complemented by a video clip from ABC’s popular television series Brothers & Sisters where executive producer David Marshall Grant and actor Ron Rifkin discussed the storyline behind a major character on the show who is a senior and diagnosed with HIV.
A panel of Federal officials provided information on prevention, care, research, disability, legal and workforce issues related to people aging with HIV; and a final community panel further explored these issues at the local level. A highlight of the meeting included recognizing Dr. Robert Franke, a retired university provost and Unitarian Universalist minister who is living with HIV and who recently won a discrimination lawsuit against a Arkansas nursing home.
The meeting ended with a clear message that older age is not a safety net that protects people from getting HIV and that people are living with HIV for decades. It was also clear that the many issues surrounding HIV among older adults will only increase as our country faces the continuing graying of our nation’s HIV epidemic.