Salome Wanjiru aged 72 is HIV positive but unlike most old people aged above 50, she has accepted her status and she is living with a positive attitude towards life.
She tested positive just three years ago in an incident involving blood contact while taking care of her then HIV positive daughter who eventually succumbed to the condition.
Wanjiru is among several elderly who are HIV positive but are not included in the Latest health demographic survey released by the Government. Statistics of those who are HIV positive are not included in government never projects.
HIV Stigma towards old people is higher than that of their younger counterparts and Wanjiru has undergone so much in the last three years.
“As an old woman, I could not believe that I tested HIV positive. I had to do a few more tests to confirm my fears. It was very traumatizing. After I decided to make my status to the public known, people asked, how can an old woman sleep around with men?
“I could not eat well but I was put under setrin before the doctors finally put me under antiretroviral therapy about two weeks later. I am now comfortable with my status,” said Wanjiru in a jovial mood.
She knows through extensive counseling that she has to take her medicines regularly and have a good budget. Studies have shown that older people who are HIV positive always forget to take their medications.
“I have a calendar on my mobile phone that reminds me my time of taking the drugs every day. I also plant a lot of vegetables in my small farm here in Western Province as you can see,” she explains.
She would be called all sorts of names by people she once thought were her friends and also came to her house to eat on the same table with her family members.
Wanjiru received counseling for seven months by both professional counselors and well-wishers before she could accept her status. Her husband is HIV negative.
Figures from various nongovernmental organizations show that HIV infection among those aged over 50 is on the increase.
Dr Francis Nyamiobo, a research physician with the Kenya AIDS Project funded by the University of Manitoba in Canada, says that older people are likely to die from AIDS as compared to the younger people.
“I have a lot of experience working with old people, and they can be very difficult to deal with. I always have to find new strategies for them to take their drugs on time. As one ages, the memory also is low. Due to the side effects, the withdraw their intake.
“Most old people apart from having HIV, they have other ailments such as diabetes. So when one is on ARVs and also on diabetes medication, they may not want to take the drugs regularly. Infections are also influenced by many cultural beliefs,” Said Dr Nyamiobo.
The researcher adds that the issue of concurrent relationships among the aged is very common among members of this age group bracket. Many of them do have the belief that they cannot get HIV.
“I have recently dealt with matters of old people who regularly use sex enhancing drugs while having sexual intercourse. Most of them have unprotected sex in the process and end up getting infected,” said the researcher.
According to Dr Nyamiobo, old people also share ARVS if they suspect that they are positive, without a confirmation HIV test.
“For some reason, I am not surprised about the ignorance by old people on matters relating to HIV. Some believe if their spouse has tested HIV negative that their status is also the same. The government needs to look more on the over 50s.
“I witnessed an incident when an old man stole his elderly wife’s ARVs,” said Dr Nyamiobo. Nyamiobo says that the biggest overall risk factor on HIV infection among the elderly is the low education level.