In recognition of National Gay Men's HIV Awareness Day, SAGE's Director of Federal Relations, Aaron Tax, gives his recap of SAGE's involvment in National HIV/AIDS & Aging Awareness Day in Washington, D.C.
On September 18, 2013, the Senate Special Committee on Aging—along with SAGE and our partners ACRIA, GMHC, HRC, and NHCOA—helped bring a series of events to Capitol Hill to mark National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. From a morning briefing, to a hearing in the afternoon, there were a number of strong and compelling voices who spoke of the challenges the aging network, medical field, and research community face with the graying of AIDS.
At the briefing, Lisa Fitzpatrick, MD, Medical Director, Infectious Diseases Care Center, United Medical Center, spoke of the importance of making HIV testing as routine as testing for diabetes, high cholesterol, and other issues that disproportionately impact older adults; her view was echoed by other experts attending the briefing. Including HIV in the normal battery of tests would be an important step toward lessening the stigma surrounding HIV (and HIV testing), and it would increase the likelihood that individuals would be tested regardless of actual or perceived risk category. (Currently, HIV testing is recommended for people only up to age 64.
Dr. Henry Pacheco, Director of Medicine and Public Health for NHCOA, added the voice of one of our Diverse Elders Coalition partners. Dr. Pacheco explained that the HIV/AIDS rate for those Latinos who are 50-plus in the United States is five times higher than their non-Hispanic white counterparts. He talked about how the population that NHCOA serves has not been reached or targeted in outreach efforts for a variety of reasons, including the usual misconception that older adults don’t use drugs and don’t have sex, but also, cultural, linguistic, and generational barriers. These barriers can be overcome, he said, by efforts tailored to the Hispanic community, including the use of of “pase la voz,” word-of-mouth, to spread awareness, and “charlas,” informal educational sessions, specifically designed to reach Hispanic older adults.
Later in the day, at the hearing, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) challenged the administration on whether it is properly focusing its HIV resources on prevention, treatment, and research on older adults. And Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) focused on the more human impacts of the HIV/AIDS crisis, recalling her days as a young public official in Wisconsin, when men, she said, became afflicted with AIDS in the big cities, but were coming home to Wisconsin to die, often at young ages. Given the fact that by 2015, half of the people who are HIV positive will be over 50, we’ve certainly made progress since that time. The day’s briefing and hearing, however, showed there is still much to be done as we face new challenges brought on by the intersection of HIV and aging.
You can view the hearing at the Special Committee on Aging’s site. (Please scroll to the 22:00 minute mark, the start of the hearing.)
For more information on HIV & Aging, download this fact sheet, handed out at the briefing and hearing.