December 1 is the 26th annual World AIDS Day. While raising awareness of the prevalence of AIDS and HIV, we also need to raise awareness about who is at risk. Unsafe sex is the most common way people contract HIV worldwide. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly assume that older Americans and individuals with a disability are not sexually active and therefore not at risk for HIV infection.
Older adults and individuals with a disability have many of the same HIV risk factors as anyone else, but due to a combination of stigma and discrimination, often less attention is paid to their access to prevention and care. This is problematic, because if diagnosis is delayed until later in the course of the disease, that results in a late start to treatment and possibility greater immune system damage.
While everyone can benefit from learning more about how to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS, most people don’t talk to their health care professionals about their sex lives. Doctors too may underestimate their patients’ risk for HIV/AIDS and may miss opportunities to discuss prevention or testing. That is unfortunate because Medicare now covers HIV screening for people with Medicare of any age who ask for the test.
The CDC's national Act Against AIDS campaign includes Let's Stop HIV Together (an HIV awareness and anti-stigma campaign) and Start Talking. Stop HIV (a communication campaign to combat complacency about HIV). In addition, the Administration for Community Living worked with CDC to develop an HIV toolkit, Know the Risks. Get the Facts, with helpful resources and materials specifically designed to inform adults about the risks of HIV/AIDS and to encourage them to know their status.
This year's World AIDS Day has the theme, "Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation." This day provides all of us with the opportunity to focus on the many challenges related to HIV prevention, testing, and treatment, and help to address these challenges.
HIV/AIDS has a devastating impact on communities worldwide. Be sure to take action on World AIDS Day and throughout the year to promote awareness of HIV/AIDS.