Bulletin of the World Health Organization

HIV infection in older adults in sub-Saharan Africa: extrapolating prevalence from existing data

Joel Negin & Robert G Cumming

Objective

To quantify the number of cases and prevalence of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection among older adults in sub-Saharan Africa.

Methods

We reviewed data from Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). Although in these surveys all female respondents are < 50 years of age, 18 of the surveys contained data on HIV infection among men aged ≥ 50 years. To estimate the percentage of older adults (i.e. people ≥ 50 years of age) who were positive for HIV (HIV+), we extrapolated from data from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS on the estimated number of people living with HIV and on HIV infection prevalence among adults aged 15–49 years.

Findings

In 2007, approximately 3 million people aged ≥ 50 years were living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. The prevalence of HIV infection in this group was 4.0%, compared with 5.0% among those aged 15–49 years. Of the approximately 21 million people in sub-Saharan Africa aged ≥ 15 years that were HIV+, 14.3% were ≥ 50 years old.

Conclusion

To better reflect the longer survival of people living with HIV and the ageing of the HIV+ population, indicators of the prevalence of HIV infection should be expanded to include people > 49 years of age. Little is known about comorbidity and sexual behaviour among HIV+ older adults or about the biological and cultural factors that increase the risk of transmission. HIV services need to be better targeted to respond to the growing needs of older adults living with HIV.

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