Patricia Kelly Credit: Contributed

In late July, Mickey of Virginia took a vacation to the tropical paradise island of Jamaica. It was an early birthday gift to himself, and he had a reason to celebrate—as his 63rd birthday was just two weeks away, and it also marked a milestone for him. He has been living with the HIV/AIDS virus for two decades. “I’m still here, living it up, kickin’ it and feel stronger and better than ever,” he said.

Pat Kelly–Contributed photo

Patricia Kelly, a native of Harlem, NY, and current resident of Orangeburg, South Carolina, just turned 68. She has been living with the HIV/AIDS virus since 1985. She got the news from a prison doctor while an inmate at the South Carolina Women’s Correctional Facility. “He looked at me over his glasses and said, ‘You have AIDS, and you are going to die, and you shouldn’t tell anyone because everyone will be afraid of you,” Kelly said. “I never thought I would make it this far.”

And Waheedah Shabazz-El is an African American Muslim woman who lives in Philadelphia. She was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2003. Like Kelly, Shabazz-El tested positive for the virus while incarcerated. “Discovering that I was HIV positive and being in jail at the same time was almost too much to bear,” she said. El-Shabazz, 69, is now an outspoken advocate and community activist for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention throughout the country.

According to various reports from multiple sources–including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNAIDS and public health department data, more than half of people living with HIV/AIDS in U.S. are over 50 and are people of color and women. Mickey, Kelly and Shabazz-El are among the hundreds of thousands of long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS that managed to reach the plateau of seniority—with many even becoming active and thriving members of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) network.

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According to some experts, the proportion of older Americans living with HIV/AIDS is steadily increasing thanks to new medications, treatments, changes in lifestyle, and other factors. For example, for every 100 older people living with HIV in 2018, more than half receive regular meds and achieve non-detectable and nontransmittable levels of the virus. Additionally, older people respond well to antiretroviral therapy and are more likely to receive regular health care and treatment options.

“We’ve been looking at aging as a process for hundreds of years, buit for this group of people {HIV positive) we’re barely 25 years into it,” said Charles Emlet, a professor of social work at the University of Washington. Emlet has published several in-depth articles and studies about demographics in aging populations—specifically people ages 50 and older living with HIV/AIDS. 

Aging and HIV/AIDS: Lessons Learned…moving forward › Aging_and_HIV_AIDS_L…

However, the stigma of HIV/AIDS and the circumstances of contracting it—promiscuous random sex with men and women and intravenous drug use–remain prevalent and ingrained in the minds of many. Emlet and others note that people living with HIV/AIDS often face social isolation, depression, anxiety, financial issues, and outlive family members or friends. “I lost my brother to AIDS in the 1990’s, after I was first diagnosed with the virus,” said Kelly of South Carolina. And Mickey of Virginia said, “I’ve lost so many friends to the virus, including some that were diagnosed well after I learned that I was positive.” However, he added, “I was fortunate I had means—a job, health insurance and monetary resources to take advantage of early treatments for the disease.”

Part 2 of Aging and HIV/AIDS will highlight how a diagnosis of HIV compares with the Monkeypox disease and COVID-19..

I'm an award winning journalist based in Edison, NJ. My work has been featured in dozens of publications including, Black Enterprise magazine; ESSENCE magazine and Real Health magazine. I am also a featured...

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