Aging HIV/AIDS survivors place growing demands on health system

Being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS is no longer the death sentence it once was. Many HIV/AIDS patients now live long lives, thanks to the development of antiretroviral drugs. There is a need to recognize these aging survivors and their unique health issues, Till Baernighausen, assistant professor of global health at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), said April 6, 2012 in a Voice of America radio interview.

In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the mortality rate among HIV-infected people has dropped by 20%. Many patients in their 40s receiving treatment are expected to live into their 60s. However, this increase in longevity often comes with an increased risk for certain cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease.

“We are now in a lucky situation that people infected with HIV in Africa and sub-Saharan Africa live to old ages,” Baernighausen told VoA. ”But with this prediction comes the challenge to prepare health and social systems to adequately respond to this new population, which will come into being over the coming decades.”

New clinical trials are needed to learn whether antiretroviral treatments could interfere with drugs that HIV patients might be taking for chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “This is really compounded by the fact that the physiology changes over the life course, [and] by the fact that adherence to treatment might become reduced in older age,” he said.

Read a summary of the Voice of America interview

Learn more

AIDS at 30: Hard lessons and hope (Harvard Public Health Review Special Report)

HSPH AIDS Initiative

Department of Global Health and Population