Belize - Belize News - - Great Belize Productions - Belize Breaking News
Home » Health » Healthy Living: HIV over 50
Nov 29, 2019

Healthy Living: HIV over 50

December first is World AIDS Day, activities will be held across the country, offering free testing and education on HIV prevention. Over the years, there have been targeted messages for vulnerable populations from young girls and to men who have sex with men. In a special edition of healthy living, we discover that there’s one population that seems to be left out of these targeted campaigns even though statistics show that they are very much at risk. The following report looks at HIV risks within people over fifty and the elderly.


Leotine Gillett, 94 years old

“I’ll soon be a centenarian and to learn something about that, get out of here.”


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

…and that reaction of ninety-four-year-old Leotine Gillett to the idea of HIV education may seem logical to many. In fact, she was about fifty by the time the HIV became well known as a – at that time – deadly disease.

Leotine Gillett

Leotine Gillett

“It was in the eighties I saw someone suffering from it, and that was in New York. And when I came to Belize, I realize it was here, but it was a girl who was suffering from it.”


…and from the eighties to the present day, Belize has been recording new cases of HIV each year. While health agencies, both governmental and nongovernmental, have made great strides in being able to reduce the number of new infections and sharing knowledge about getting tested and HIV prevention; it seems that information may have skipped a key population.


Natalie Bruce

Dr. Natalie Bruce, Medical Doctor, BFLA

“We do have cases where the elderly are newly diagnosed cases.”


Doctor Natalie Bruce is a medical doctor at the B.F.L.A. primary care clinic.


Dr. Natalie Bruce

“It is estimated that currently seventeen percent of the newly diagnosed HIV cases are found within the ages of fifty and older and that is expected to increase by the year 2020.”


These global statistics are not far off from our own numbers. It’s something that concerns groups like HelpAge Belize that are working with the elderly population.


Ivorine Bulwer

Ivorine Bulwer, Executive Director, HelpAge Belize

“I looked at the 2016 data, and I saw in 2016 there were forty-five new cases. And in 2017, there were thirty-five new cases between the ages of fifty and sixty plus. That is concerning.”


Even though the over fifty age category would account for fifteen to twenty percent of newly diagnosed infections in the last two published HIV reports, there are no data available that tell us how or when these persons over fifty acquired the virus. It is believed that some of these cases are only detected in the later years and that they may have been living with the illness for some time.


Dr. Natalie Bruce

“…because they have never tested.  They have symptoms, and they would test for something else before they test for HIV, and that would be the last thing we would take into account.  Here at B.F.L.A., we try to create an integrated approach. We offer HIV testing across the board granted that we get the consent of the person.”


In the 2017 HIV Surveillance Report, which was published in October 2017, this very issue was noted.  The report said, “the elderly do not actively seek HIV testing, so they are being detected in the late stages of HIV when they most likely present with an opportunistic infection or disease and then are screened to rule out HIV infection.”  It went on to say, “Looking at the rate of infection in the elderly male and female population, screening opportunities similar to those in the younger age bracket should be provided.”


Ivorine Bulwer

“You don’t see marketing to encourage the older person to get HIV test done. You don’t hear of older persons being asked to do an HIV test.  Screening should be done at all ages, and I think it’s very important because the Ministry of Health statistics is showing persons fifty plus positive with HIV.”


One barrier is the assumption that as people age, they stop having sex. Both Bulwer and Doctor Bruce agree that this is a misconception.
Dr. Natalie Bruce

“Back in the day, they’d be more confined to the house, but you find how they might be older looking younger. They are taking a healthy approach to life, and they can live a more vibrant life, and that life also entails sex.”


Ivorine Bulwer

“Persons come to you, and they would ask you questions. They would try to get information about certain risky behavior they are engaging in, and we realize look we need to get to providing education and information.”


Phillip Singh

As for the aging population itself, well naturally, some will be more open than others.


Phillip Singh, 63 years old

“Whoever with my age and still active tek wah lee test. Nothing wrong with that.”


Leotine Gillett

“They’ve had it at the ‘Y’ different times. I told Ms. Linares that’s not for me. I can’t even spell condoms. Much worse to tell what it is used for.”


…and while her response may seem comical, it does show that the HIV education may need to extend its reach to all populations.


Dr. Natalie Bruce

“The education classes that happen for the elderly don’t include HIV education or prevention because they assume that they already know, or they are assuming that we don’t need to target them because they are not having sex.  The statistics are showing that work needs to be done, and if the statistics show that there will be an increase, then we have to target everybody, so no one gets left behind.”

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

Advertise Here

Comments are closed