HIV doesn't often make the headlines, which is part of the reason why World AIDS Day is a big deal for advocates - the one day a year that the media is proactive about covering HIV. This year feels different, as with the forced disclosure of Charlie Sheen's HIV status, the headlines have been coming thick and fast. Sadly, this increase in media coverage has been characterised by a surge in inaccuracy, stigma and, in some cases, utter nonsense. For example, a local media report about a woman who sought police intervention on discovering that her partner was living with HIV and has, according to the story, been told that she will need to "be tested every three months for the next 10 to 20 years because the virus can stay dormant in her system for up to 20 years." This is completely false, the 'window period' between HIV acquisition and a positive test result can take up to three months, if you test negative at this point, that's it.
Instead of this kind of media circus, wouldn't it be great to see coverage that is accurate, respectful, and reflects the reality of HIV? For example, that increased access to effective treatment, care and support means that life expectancy for people living with HIV is the same as for anyone else?
This means that increasing numbers of people are negotiating older age with HIV. This brings new challenges, as older people are often missing from HIV policy, research and programming overall. UNAIDS, the UN agency on HIV, identified people over 50 as a population at risk of being left behind in the HIV response. Here in the UK, according to Public Health England:
"Almost half (48%, 40,834) of all people seen for HIV care in 2014 were aged 45 and over, up from 25% over the past decade, whilst those aged 55 or over and 65 or over now account for 15%, and 4% respectively."
The experiences of women living with HIV are often missing from media coverage - have a look at all the interviews and special supplements around HIV, how many women are included? This is compounded for older women living with HIV, who are even more invisible.
My PhD research is exploring the experiences of women aged over 50 living with HIV, using participatory workshops and life story interviews to learn and tell their stories. As greater numbers of older women acquire HIV, and women living with HIV live to older age, their voices should be heard. I will be blogging about my research over the next couple of years to share these stories.
So this World AIDS Day, why not leave Charlie Sheen a bit of privacy, and read the inspiring stories of these extraordinary women living with HIV instead?
Read Alice and Winnie's stories of ageing with HIV in this article.
Read this great interview with Angelina about living with HIV.
Check out this presentation by Silvia, an incredible activist who highlights how women are marginalised in HIV research.
Learn in this blog how Nadia is promoting female condoms in Burundi.
Find out how Sophia Forum is supporting women living with HIV to become advocates in the UK.