HIV risk being ignored by Wales’ 50-plus age group says Terrence Higgins Trust

OLDER people in Wales are ignoring the risk of HIV despite nearly 10% of new cases in Wales being diagnosed in over-55s, campaigners have warned.

Many people aged 50-plus either missed safer sex messages or don’t think they apply to them, claims Steve Jones director of the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) Cymru.

With World Aids Day being marked this Wednesday he is calling for better targeted public awareness campaigns.

In the first six months of this year 70 new cases of HIV were diagnosed in Wales, 26 of whom were among people aged 40 plus and six of those 55 plus. But Mr Jones believes the true figure may be far higher with many more cases going undiagnosed.

“One of the problems we have is that about a quarter of people already living with HIV in Wales don’t know they have the virus,” he warned.

“Even if we had a magic bullet stopping new infections we still have several hundred people in Wales who are yet to be diagnosed. We believe the figures in Wales are around 1,800 people with HIV, of which a quarter are undiagnosed.”

Most recent official figures from Public Health Wales show in 2010 1,321 people in Wales had HIV and were being treated for it – a 245% increase on the 383 people seen in 2001.

But Mr Jones says the true figure may be far higher and more needs to be done to encourage people to be tested, especially older people. “Work has been done with younger people in terms of better sexual health but one of the things we’re finding is older people are increasing in numbers of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,” he said. “A lot are coming out of long-term relationships and particularly with women they think they no longer have to worry about pregnancy and condoms.” He believes people of all ages are becoming less aware of the risks of HIV/Aids with public health campaigns tailing off since the hard-hitting advertisements of the 1980s and 1990s.

And better treatment means HIV is now treated as a long- term chronic disease which lulls some into a false sense of security.

“Because treatments have improved substantially over the last 10 to 15 years some people think there’s a cure, there’s not,” he said. “Some people think it’s no big thing and they can just pop a pill, they can’t.”

And many older people simply don’t think they could be at risk of, or already have, HIV, he added.

“We often worry about younger people thinking ‘it will never happen to me’ but to some extent it’s older people thinking that too. They feel they’re responsible, older people with a nice house and job and don’t associate that with the possibility of having HIV.”

THT Cymru offers one-hour HIV testing in Cardiff every Tuesday between 6pm and 7pm. Testing is free and anonymous, and takes place at THT Cymru’s centre at Canton House, 435 Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff CF5 1JH. The charity is also running an all-day HIV testing clinic on World AIDS Day (on Thursday) from 10am to 5pm at the same venue.

Next page: George’s story – “I was looking forward to retirement when Iearned I had HIV”

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