In 1994, I was diagnosed with HIV. Today, I’m 50 years old and realize I’m incredibly lucky to have made it this far. While HIV is no longer a death sentence, many of my friends didn’t live past 30.
This year marks the first time in history when nearly 50% of people living with HIV are age 50 and over, like me. While that’s worth cheering, a look at the data also reveals something troubling: African Americans now account for 42% of all of the new HIV diagnoses among those 50 and older.
The realities of aging with HIV, specifically being a minority aging with HIV, compel us to explore new approaches and partnerships.
Regardless of your age or race, the importance of feeling connected and comfortable with your healthcare provider is critical. For people living and aging with HIV, non-judgmental, culturally competent care is even more important. Yet, for minorities living with HIV, dissatisfaction with care is especially high.
My initial experience with the health care system mirrors those realities – I felt that I had too little opportunity to express my concerns, explore my options or be treated with dignity. Somehow I made it through and came to found my own organization, Abounding Prosperity, which works to address the systemic barriers affecting African Americans living with HIV.
In Dallas, where Abounding Prosperity is based, there are more than 15,000 people living with HIV, and more than 81,000 in the entire state of Texas. Our mission is to provide a place where people living with HIV feel safe, free from stigma, and are able to access the services they need to overcome the disparities that impact African Americans every day.
But with the fact that by 2030, 70% of people living with HIV will be over the age of 50, we need to take action to ensure that more is being done to support this growing population.
Through an awareness borne out of community and academic input, Gilead Sciences recently launched the Age Positively initiative. Our organization is fortunate to be one of the 30 grantees included in this $17.6 million program, which aims to improve care coordination, increase resources for better well-being and educate and inform policy.
Through the Age Positively program, Abounding Prosperity will be able to expand our services and support even more people in the Dallas community. While HIV can affect anybody, its disproportionate impact on marginalized – and now aging – communities requires specialized care and attention.
April is National Minority Health Month, a moment to collectively reaffirm our commitment to eliminating race-based health disparities, including those related to African Americans aging with HIV. It also marks a period of great hope for our organization – since we opened, we have served more than 16,000 people.
This community, our community, has always tackled obstacles that once felt insurmountable, and we know that with community-led programs like Age Positively, we will do it again.
Kirk Meyers is the founder and executive director of Abounding Prosperity, a nonprofit organization working to tackle the issue of aging with HIV/AIDS in the African American community.