Thursday, December 13, 2007

AIDS Organizations Increase Outreach to People Over 50

Most people admittedly probably don't want to talk about the sex lives of people over 50 outside of dated chicken hawk and troll cliches used by many within the gay community. A coalition of HIV and AIDS organizations hope to change this stigma with a new campaign designed to raise awareness of how the epidemic affects older gay men as I reported in earlier this week. It will appear across New York City but it remains a small part of an overall effort activists and service providers maintain is long overdue. Stay tuned...

With more and more Americans turning 50 each year, a growing number of people with HIV and AIDS are entering their golden years. HIV and AIDS service organizations are struggling to meet the needs of their aging clients.

The Gay Men's Health Crisis, Service & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America and the Brooklyn, N.Y., based-Griot Circle launched the Eldersexual Campaign in New York on Tuesday, December 11, 2007, as a way to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS among people over 50. The initiative features four separate advertisements that will run in 15 weekly and two monthly publications across the Five Boroughs. Thirty-nine telephone booths across Brooklyn and Manhattan will also display the ads.

GMHC Institute of Gay Men's Health director Dr. Bill Stackhouse told he remains confident of the campaign's success. "It's really about raising awareness and facilitating dialogue in New York City that HIV and AIDS is an issue for people over 50," he said. "It's a fun campaign with a gay sensibility -- adjusted to the general public."

Stackhouse further estimated that one-third of GMHC's total clientele are over 50 while SAGE executive director Michael Adams added that his New York-based organization serves more than 2,000 LGBT elders each month. "People, thankfully, are living longer lives," Adams said. "It's only natural we would be developing programming around HIV issues."

Older people face concerns about possible interactions with HIV and AIDS drugs and medications specific to treating diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic diseases and conditions often associated with aging. Social security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits are other concerns with which SAGE and other HIV and AIDS service organizations assist their clients. "There are a whole range of issues that older people face," Adams said. "Some [are issues that] all older people face and some [are] particular to LGBT seniors. HIV is becoming increasingly another issue older LGBT people [face] -- it's becoming an increasingly important part of the mix."

Akira Ohiso, programming coordinator for the Ryan White Over 50 Program at Housing Works, agreed. His organization maintains an outreach program in the East New York section of Brooklyn that provides housing and other basic services to people with HIV and AIDS over 50 in the crime-ridden neighborhood. Ohiso further pointed to poverty and long-held attitudes, such as that older people are not sexually active, which he contends remain serious barriers to those seeking treatment. "There are still a lot of myths and biases towards the aging community," he said.

Activists also pointed out HIV and AIDS symptoms often mirror those commonly associated with aging. Corey White, an outreach coordinator with the Griot Circle, said this concern ranks high among the older men of color who attend the support group he facilitates. "Many seniors go without being treated because of the similarities of HIV and aging," he said. "That's occurring across the board."

White added that many Griot Circle clients are simply unaware of how to talk about HIV and AIDS with their medical providers or possible symptoms of which they should be aware. He also works with group attendees on how to receive adequate medical care. "[These are] some of the conversations we have in our group," White said.

The Boston-based National Association on HIV Over Fifty estimates that up to 15 percent of all AIDS cases in the United States occur among people over 50. Rates of infection were more than twice as high among older people than young adults between 1991 and 1995.

New York City Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo [D-Mott Haven] proposed $1 million last year to fund training to teach medical providers how to treat older New Yorkers with HIV and AIDS and education initiatives at senior centers across the city. But activists maintain government officials can do more to curb HIV and AIDS among people over 50. "There hasn't been a lot of programming and funding put in place for older people," Ohiso said. "This is a vulnerable community within a vulnerable community."

Adams agreed. "The success is people are living longer and that's great news," he said. "But now [that we] have achieved success, we have to recognize this population needs HIV programming and support."

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