Friday, September 9, 2011

HIV/AIDS Prevention Campaigns for Seniors and Older Adults on the Streets of NYC

The last couple of weeks I have been looking around New York City for any HIV and AIDS prevention campaigns. I wanted to see who these campaigns are targeting, and if there were any campaigns specifically directed towards older adults and seniors. After a few weeks of intense observing, I found one campaign that is directly focused on older adults. Overall I was a bit surprised over how few HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns are out there.

Age is not a condom
Upper west side, NYC

The text under says:

“And if you can’t use one. Tell your doctor”.

3 posters (by Andy Chen Design).

The text under says: “And still using protection. Each & every time”.

“And neither does keeping yourself protected”.

Why have older persons been bypassed when it comes to HIV/AIDS prevention?

People give many answers to this question. Most think of HIV and AIDS as a young person's disease. Older adults and seniors have often been ignored when it comes to HIV / AIDS prevention. As we approach the fourth decade of the HIV epidemic, it is important to remember that about 17 percent of the newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases in the USA are found in people over the age 50, (according to the CDC report in 2009). About one-third of all people living with HIV/AIDS in the USA are 50 years of age or older. This number is expected to grow to one-half by 2015. The 50 years and older population is the fastest growing population in USA. Older adults and seniors need to know why it is important to protect yourself as you are growing older. The immune system naturally becomes less effective as you age, which can increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections. Also,
after menopause, women's vaginal tissues thin and natural lubrication decreases. This can increase the risk of micro-tears and of sexual transmission of certain diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Why so many newly infected older adults and seniors?

There are numerous potential answers to this question. One reason could be that a lot of older adults and seniors feel that it is a taboo to talk about sex. During the time they were growing up sex was not talked about in the same was as it is today. Also, some older persons may not be that knowledgeable about HIV /AIDS and therefore less likely to protect themselves. They may not even perceive themselves as at risk for HIV, so they do not use condoms nor do they get tested for HIV. Another reason can be that the health care professionals may underestimate their older patients’ risk for HIV/AIDS and therefore do not tell them about prevention or offer HIV tests. Symptoms of HIV/AIDS can be misunderstood as symptoms of normal aging, such as fatigue, weight loss and mental confusion.

I don’t think there is one single reason for all the newly HIV infected older adults and seniors. All the above mentioned reasons have created this problem. The good news is that none of it this is unfixable. This is what we need to do: Get more HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns for older adults and seniors. Make HIV testing and prevention conversations an obligation between Health care professionals and their older patients. Start offering Sex Education classes at senior centers, making it less of a taboo.

Let me be clear. I think we should stop thinking people stop having sex after the age of 50, because this is clearly not the case.

Sanna Klemetti.

Friday, September 2, 2011

J Edward Shaw Part II

Last week I introduced you to Ed Shaw. This week I am describing his activism and volunteer work. At the moment Ed serves as the second chairperson of The New York Association on HIV over Fifty (NYAHOF). Before the organization was established, it went under a different name, the “Aging Task Force on AIDS”. This name was later changed,. Why? Because during the 1980s no one thought people would live beyond the age of fifty. At first the “Aging Task Force on AIDS” was a Think Tank, where people would meet and talk about HIV/AIDS and the aging process. NYAHOF was formed in 1991; today it's members address issues related to HIV/AIDS and older adults. It's members want to ensure that the concerns of persons over the age of fifty and their support networks are addressed,. They want to generate educational, programmatic, and policy initiatives in the field of aging.

I asked Ed how all this could is done. He gave me a few examples of the projects he is working on just now. Ed has spoken at senior centers, churches, hospitals, and high schools. He described one particular project, where he talk to high school students who during the summer months work within areas of health care. Before they graduate , Ed comes to talk to about HIV and AIDS and its impact on the communities. He told me the students really appreciated this moment and the response was infatuating. This is a great example of an inter-generational program.

NYAHOF does more than educate. They assist HIV positive older adults and seniors to find basic things like housing. Housing is very important, not only for the individual, but for the whole community. If you don’t have the basic things it is hard to stay healthy and take your medicine. Ed has assisted lots of people in all five boroughs to deal with legal advice and for them to become more aware of the things they need to do in order to live healthy with HIV.

I wanted to know what Ed’s plans are for NYAHOF’s future. At the moment he is in the process of putting together a mailing list of local legislatures. Ed says it is important to know who is representing you. He encourages everyone to find out for themselves. He thinks all of us should let elected officials know that now is not the time to cut back on health budgets; we need to show them how very important programs are. If we ever want to beat-back rates of HIV and AIDS we must continue to acknowledge the importance of this cause. While Ed is supposed to be retired, he intend to keep on educating and encouraging safe sex practices across all generation, for as long as he can.

Besides NYAHOF, Ed is also involved in a number of other HIV/AIDS awareness projects. He is also on the Board of Directors of New York City Legal Action Center and has served as Community Co-Chair of the New York State HIV Prevention Planning Group and the NEW York City HIV Planning Council. He was also appointed to the first New York City Commission on HIV/AIDS.

Last, Ed and I spoke about the importance of volunteer work. He ended the interview with a quote that I really like by Martin Niemöller, the well-known German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran Pastor:

First they came for the communists,

and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me”.

Sanna Klemetti:

If you wanna write Ed, you can do that on this address: