By Michael Gwarisa
“Go away old granny, How does someone your age get HIV, like seriously, where did you get the virus anyway?”
These are some of the harsh realities older people living with the HIV virus in Zimbabwe encounter at health care centers on daily basis. In most cases, senior citizens surviving with the virus are denied access to medicines and life saving Anti Retro Viral (ARV) drugs, exposing them to even worse catastrophic circumstances such as developing HIV drug resistance.
Gogo Rudo Tenenga (67) of Chitungwiza has lived for the past 24 years as an HIV survivor and her experiences at health care institutions have been horrendous to say the least.
“When an elderly person like me goes to the hospital, we are being viewed as some other creatures and not humans. The truth is HIV knows no age and anyone can get the virus. I want to speak on the issues to do with testing or going for an HIV test. A lot of elderly people can not go for testing simply just because the moment you set foot at a health care centre offering testing services, you are asked funny questions like old man/woman, why are you even here.
“Sometimes these old people could have gotten the disease when they were still in their 30s or 40s, imagine i have survived with the virus for almost 24 years now and i am now 67. When most of us the elderly go to hospital, they don’t test us at all. The moment you say you are sick they just assume its something else besides HIV, yet some of the old people might have gotten it from caring for their HIV positive children without wearing protective clothing like gloves,” said Gogo Tenenga.
She added that sometimes older people avoid wearing gloves when caring for their sick relatives for fear of being labeled or given names hence contracting the virus.
“It is also disheartening to note that when it comes to research issues, the elderly are left out you just hear researchers saying we are looking at people around 14 to 40 years.
“We appeal to organisations dealing with HIV positive people not to discriminate us and consider us in all their programs as we are seeing an increased number of people dying from the epidemic.”
Meanwhile, older people in Zimbabwe are left with the burden of care for both their adult sick children as well as their orphaned grand children. This is often not reported neither is it recognised. It has also been noted that older people have limited income streams making it difficult to manage the disease in the event of infection or when they are affected.
“Negative reporting on most issues involving older people discourage health seeking behaviour and there’s not enough information on the health status of older persons. It’s worrying when you look at the rate of HIV/AIDS amongst aged persons here. The percentage of elderly persons aged 60 years and above living with HIV is around 15.3 percent
“The 50+ age group makes up 11% of the population, this is projected to grow to 21% by 2030. Majority
of these will be HIV+ given the bulge inn the 24 -44 year age group,” said Mr Marck Chikanza, national coordinator of the National Age Network of Zimbabwe (NANZ), an organisation that caters for older people’s needs.
He added that more than 115,000 older people are living with HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe, one in ten of the 1.2 million Zimbaweans who the United Nations says are living with HIV/AIDS.