Rates of HIV for the over-50s are on the rise, according to new research by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The research, conducted between 2004-2015, found a 2.1% rise per year in the number of HIV cases for the over-50s.
Over-50s accounted for 1 in 6 (17.3%) new cases of the infection throughout Europe in 2015 (this is compared to 1 in 10 a decade ago) and were also more likely than younger people to have an advanced form of HIV. This has led to concerns about awareness in older populations.
Lead author of the study, Dr Lara Tavoschi, said: ‘Our findings suggest a new direction in which the HIV epidemic is evolving’
‘This potentially is a result of older peoples’ low awareness of HIV and how it is transmitted, leading to misconceptions and low perception of their own risk.’
The study looked at 31 countries across Europe and found that in 16 countries, including the UK, there has been a rise in cases of HIV for people aged over 50, while rates of those younger than 50 have stayed ‘stable’.
Although the study was not concerned with why older people are contracting the infection, it did suggest this to be down to a lack of awareness, contraception and the infrequency of opportunities for older people to get tested. They suggested that the common association of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections as being something that only affects younger people has also engendered the increase seen in the older population. Another of the study’s authors, Dr Anastasia Pharris said: ‘We often associate HIV with younger people who are sexually active, we assume sexually active means young people.’
Medical Director of the British Aids charity, Dr Michael Brady, said: ‘It is worrying to think how many people over 50 don't consider themselves to be at risk of HIV, and that is probably the reason why, in this study, older people were more likely to be diagnosed late with more advanced HIV.’
According to the National Aids Trust, awareness of this problem has been about for quite some time. They suggest that it has not been an ignorance that has led to such circumstances, but instead a lack of resources to target older people with information regarding the virus.
Kat Smithson, director of policy and campaigns for the National Aids Trust, has blamed government cuts to public health budgets as a major reason for such a lack of resources: ‘High prevalence areas are spending a third less on HIV prevention than they were two years ago, and it’s targeted services that are suffering most. We are concerned that generalised health promotion around sexual health and HIV may not reach some smaller but growing areas of need, such as in the older heterosexual population. We have the tools to reverse this trend, but without investment we cannot use them.’