An Oh Well Moment is a newsletter from OWEL Executive Director Carolyn Massey, MHS(c).

 

An Oh Well Moment

2016: An unprecedented year for older adults living with HIV

 

We need more research and better data because without it, there is only conversation about what we see and think we know. Nothing moves forward in public health without data!

 

Our challenge is to develop and implement prevention, treatment and support for aging women at risk and living with HIV in Baltimore, Maryland.

In the United States, about half of the people who are living with HIV are at least 50 years old. By 2020, estimates are that for every 10 people who are living with HIV, 7 of them will be age 50 or older.

We Are Rising to the Challenge

Some of us say, "I am living with the challenge of HIV." Personally, I know that I am living with the opportunities of HIV. Perhaps it has something to do with aging and a measure of wisdom, but I recognize that HIV has afforded us the tremendous opportunity to live with greater gratitude and purpose.

In 2016, we saw the strongest efforts to date to bring aging into the conversation about living with HIV.  Thanks to the efforts of the women of Older Women Embracing Life (OWEL) and the collaborators within our tremendous network who banged the drum and trumpeted the cause of aging adults again this year.  There is growing awareness within the scientific community of the intersect between the aging process and living with HIV.

We are grateful to our network of collaborating organizations that include: Johns Hopkins AIDS Education and Training Center (JH AETC), the dedicated scientists of AIDS Community Research Initiative of America (ACRIA), the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) Advisory Committee (CHAC), Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (MD DHMH), Baltimore City Department of Health (BCHD), Light Health and Wellness, Inc., The Beacon Newspaper, District of Columbia Department of Health and its Places of Worship Advisory Board (DC POWAB), Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Bristol Myers Squibb Corporation, Gilead Sciences, Theratechnologies Inc. and other community stakeholders.

The Maryland Integrated HIV Plan: A Comprehensive, Coordinated Response to HIV for Baltimore and Maryland, includes an expanded HIV Continuum of Care that now includes education for all Marylanders as its first benchmark. Unfortunately, specific strategies to educate older persons on their risk for HIV infection or reinfection are missing from the plan. A contributing factor for this is data, the lack thereof, and the current federally prescribed parameters for data collection. In addition, there is little research that examines how aging African American women in Maryland are affected as Long-Term Survivors of HIV/AIDS.  Further, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and its implementation plan calls for the removal of silos of operations between government departments so that there is a more coordinated and comprehensive response to HIV/AIDS.  Unfortunately, the needle has barely moved on this front.  We know now that the social determinants of health (we acknowledge them to include: age, housing, employment, poverty, geographic location, mental health, education, civic literacy, and incarceration) are particularly impactful on aging adults.  To their credit, many departments have begun to assess how they might better address issues that impact HIV/AIDS, but very little has been accomplished to crosswalk efforts between departments. 

Fortunately, OWELis equipped with two (2) curricula that directly address the need for educating aging adults on healthy relationships and the unique concerns of aging women as relates to remaining HIV-negative and living a better quality of life if diagnosed with HIV.  As always, HIV and HepC testing is paired with our education outreach activities. Our goal is to secure resources to launch this Targeted Prevention and Education Initiative in Baltimore in 2017.

Partnerships are a major focus for OWEL in 2017.  We will lead the way by partnering in research to identify the care needs of aging women in the region through the Research on Older Adults and HIV 2.0 Study.  This effort builds upon the seminal study, ROAH, that established the runaway incidence of HIV among aging people.  As 2017 progresses, OWEL will convene roundtable discussions with organizations throughout the region who focus on meeting the needs of women for HIV prevention and care services. We will advocate for the development, collection, and analysis of better data indicators that reveal the unique attributes and indicators of what it means to live and age with HIV/AIDS.  Our ultimate goal is to create greater collaborations that result in specific strategies, stronger advocacy and dedicated resources to support aging women to experience better wellness and quality of life.

We recognize the value of strengthening our organizational capacity to achieve its mission.  Therefore, in 2017, OWEL will focus upon strategic planning for the future sustainability of our work to help aging women live better physically, emotionally, and spiritually.