Still in the game...but left out

HARARE - Elderly people — aged 50 years and above — have for long been regarded as disinterested and lacking desire for sex.

The notion has particularly been associated with women.

But contrary to the belief, the age group is very much still in the game and feels left out and discriminated from the fight against HIV and Aids programmes due to misconceptions around their sex lives.

In many of the programmes, they have only been regarded as caregivers of HIV and Aids victims’ orphans or of people living with the condition.

They have, however, revealed that they are still sexually active and must be included in prevention and treatment programmes.

This comes as there have been many programmes targeting adolescents, based on the thinking that the young are key in controlling the spread and new HIV infections.

According to the Centre of Community Development Solutions (CCDS), the elderly’s involvement in HIV programmes is crucial because they are sexually active and also engage in the activity with those younger than them.

According to a presentation by CCDS at a National Aids Council workshop in Kadoma recently, there have been several misconceptions about people aged 50 and above, mainly that they no longer have a sex drive.

“ . . . misconceptions are that they (the elderly) know what needs to be known about sex and sexually transmitted diseases, that they are no longer in danger of infection, that older people especially women are no longer sexually attractive and are not sexually attracted,”  CCDS said.

CCDS said those aged 50 and above constitute 11 percent of the population, with projections that they will grow to 21 percent by 2030.

In addition, CCDS said indications are that a majority of those currently living with HIV between the ages of 24 and 44 will be in that elderly group, hence the need to craft policies and programmes targeted at the 50-plus age group.

Among the concerns raised about the inclusion of the elderly in HIV and Aids programmes is that they are being stigmatised because of their age.

“The elderly are comfortable to buy condoms because society raises eyebrows due to their age,” CCDS said.

“There is lack of targeted communication and information. Older people are more likely to be diagnosed of HIV later in the infection and they are more likely to mistake HIV symptoms as part of ageing complications,” it added.

“Older people with HIV infection are more likely to suffer secondary infections such as bone thinning, cancers and others while older women, because of the diminished chances of getting pregnant, are more likely not to use protection.

“At the same time health care providers are less likely to discuss sexual health with older patients thus missing out on important indicators.

“Studies show that over 50 percent of adults aged 50 years and above who conceived did so after their 50th birthday. Because of the cautions that are required of taking care of people lining with HIV, the elderly need more information regarding protecting themselves from getting infected, according to the presentation.

“Older people are left with the burden of care for both their adult sick children as well as their orphaned grandchildren. This is often not reported neither is it recognised.

“Older people have limited income streams making it difficult to manage the disease in the event of infection or when they are affected.”

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