Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett today warned that elderly people who engage in sexual activity were most vulnerable to contracting HIV since the symptoms of the virus could be easily misinterpreted as regular signs of aging.
Addressing a National Assistance Board sponsored seminar on HIV and the Elderly, Blackett said while he was not discouraging seniors from seeking sexual gratification, they need to refrain from risky behaviours.
Quoting statistics from the Centre for Disease Control in the United States, the Minister said 31 per cent of persons living with HIV were over the age of 50, while 17 per cent of all new HIV cases occurred among persons 50 years and older.
Additionally, it is predicted that by 2015 half of the persons living with HIV in the US will be more than 50 years old.
However, the Minister said there was still be a misperception among persons within that demographic that they were not vulnerable to sexually transmitted viruses or infections.
“The primary medium of transmission is the same for older persons as it is for younger persons [so] we need to dispel the myth that the elderly do not contract HIV. Older persons are affected as well effected but they are rarely included in HIV statistics. This should in no way reinforce the assumption that older persons are not sexually active or become affected.”
He further pointed out that “seniors affected with HIV are usually diagnosed in the latter stages of the disease when there is a more rapid [deterioration] and their survival rates are lower compared to persons in the younger age group.”
Some early signs of the disease such as fatigue, weight loss and mental confusion may by diagnosed as normal signs of aging. The situation is compounded by the fact that older persons are more susceptible to chronic non–communicable diseases.
Therefore, Blackett said it was important that each individual takes responsibility for his/her behaviour and engage in preventative measures to ensure safety and health. He added that his ministry was totally committed and focused on using education as the tool to spur behaviour modification.
Reiterating the message of education, Chairman of the NAB Cephus Sealey said the Barbados Department of Statistical Services has projected that by the year 2025 more than 50 per cent of the population will be over 65 years of age and is expected to continue to increase.
Given this reality locally and noting that the older population in the Caribbean was reported to be larger than ever in the history of the region, he said concern must be directed to HIV and AIDS among the elderly. Barbados as a society must therefore embark on sensitizing all persons and encouraging treatment of the virus.
“A major stride will be to eradicate our reaction, stigma and discrimination against the elderly with HIV and AIDS. Likewise, polyclinics need to determine the merit of running open ended groups for elderly couples, widows and widowers, regarding sexuality among the elderly. Family doctors private clincs, churches and Government Information Services should promote these groups as well. It is a reality that elderly have contracted HIV and AIDS,” Sealey said.
In 2010, the United Nation General Assembly, in a country progress report on Barbados for the period January 2008 to December 2008, stated that 156 persons were diagnosed with HIV in Barbados, with 37 HIV related deaths and 93 newly diagnosed AIDS cases.