'Youths infecting elderly with HIV'

HARARE - The elderly population has recorded the highest rate of HIV-infected people, third quarter statistics released by the National Aids Council (Nac) reveal.

People above the age of 50 recorded a 42 percent HIV positive rate surpassing the 25 to 29 age group by a 25 percent margin.

Nac Monitoring and Evaluation director Amon Mpofu said the statistics maybe confirming the continued existence of inter-generational sex.

“The highest positivity rate was recorded in the +50 age group. The increase is really worrying but we think it is a result of inter-generational relationships where the young are infecting the elderly,” said Mpofu at a workshop in Kwekwe.

The 30 to 49-year-olds are following closely behind at 23, 6 percent.

This is contrary to national statistics which have youths constituting the most affected group of the HIV positive population in Zimbabwe.

The 15-49 age group prevalence rate, according to UN-Aids, stands at 14,3 percent.

In the third quarter report, the 15 to 19 age group are just below seven percent while the 20 to 24 are around 11 percent risk of being infected.

A 17 percent infection rate is for those between 25 to 29 years.

Golden Goni, Nac board member representing HIV positive people, argued that it is likely to be a result of an increase in the number of people in the above 50 age group going for testing.

“To say that the 42 percent figure is a result of cross-generational relationships maybe incorrect, people of my age no longer have anything to fear. I am much more prepared to present myself at the New Start Centre for testing because we are now more concerned about leaving things in case we die,” said Goni.

HelpAge Zimbabwe has since started lobbying government and development partners to maximise interventions targeted at elderly people following revelations that the population is still equally sexually active.

Priscilla Gavi, HelpAge executive director, said the statistics where indicative of the country’s disaggregated data and intervention programmes that have concentrated on the youthful population while excluding another critical section of the elderly.

“We have always said there is need to disaggregate HIV and Aids data. The current statistics are quite alarming. It proves that the 50 plus age group has always been segregated in terms of HIV and Aids prevention treatment and support programmes,” said Gavi.

“However, the statistics may also be a result of the graduation of the highly-affected population of yesteryears into old ages after the advent of medication that prolongs life. But still it all speaks towards the need to shift attention to prevention and care programmes that are elderly friendly,” she said.

According to Gavi, Zimbabwe cannot ignore a group of people that constitute seven percent of our population.

Africa Platform for Social Protection regional director, Tavengwa Nhongo said there was serious need to readdress sex, the elderly and social perceptions which are influencing the formulation of discriminatory policies.

“The purported facts about age and sex are a mere social construct. Being amongst this group, I can confirm that older people whether men or women are still active and can still be active as long as they live,” Tavengwa recently said.

Zimbabwe has 1,2 million people leaving with HIV and only 600 000 are on treatment. - Wendy Muperi

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