July 23, 2014

AIDS 2014: addressing the needs of people who have lived with HIV for more than 20 years

With the AIDS epidemic having entered its fourth decade, and given the wider availability of life-saving treatment, there is now a growing number of people who have been living with HIV for 20 years or more. Some have been born with the virus and are surviving into adulthood, while others are members of an ageing HIV population. According to a panel discussion that took place on 22 July at AIDS 2014, much more must be done to include the needs and concerns of both groups in a comprehensive AIDS response.

The UNAIDS organized event, Twenty Plus Positive Dialoguesfocused on the lives and experiences of several panellists who have been living with HIV for decades and debated emerging issues.

Stephen Watiti, a 60-year-old Ugandan medical doctor who has been living with the virus for more than 25 years is one of the world’s 3.6 million HIV-positive people aged over 50. He spoke of his concerns about the disease as he grows older, such as the long-term side-effects of being on treatment for 20, 30 or 40 years and how to cope with non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, that may also hit people living with HIV as they age.

Lwendo Mbulo, a 23-year-old Zambian activist who was born with HIV and is now the mother of an HIV-negative child, championed greater access to prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission services, including family planning services. She also supported comprehensive reproductive health interventions for young people and increased social protection focused on children born to HIV-affected families.

A 70-year-old gay man, John Rock, stressed how your birthplace can be a determinant for accessing HIV services.

The participants agreed that it was time to adapt to the changing profile of an increasingly complex AIDS epidemic. It was argued that in a life cycle approach people can be reached with a spectrum of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services throughout their lives.


“How as policy-makers do we continue to ensure that all people living with HIV continue to live a quality life? We haven’t really done a good job of dealing with the non-biological aspect of people living with HIV, such as depression, sex life, employment, etc.”

Suzette Moses-Burton, Executive Director, Global Network of People Living with HIV

“When I found out I was HIV-positive my dreams were shattered. Little did I know that with HIV I could stand with the youth as a voice for HIV.”

Lwendo Mbulo, AIDS activist, Network of Zambian People Living with HIV/AIDS

“I am alive today, 30 years since I think I contracted HIV, largely because of the very good HIV treatment I get here in Australia. I believe everyone, regardless of where they are located, should be able to get quality HIV treatment.”

John Rock, advocate and activist, and a member of the Asia-Pacific Network of People Living with HIV

“What has always drawn me into working on this disease and finding a cure is the power and inspiration of people living with HIV. Your voices have pushed us, told us what wasn’t working and that you needed more.”

Deborah Birx, United States Global AIDS Coordinator

“Today, babies continue to be born with HIV and our hope is that they continue to grow for many years. As they get older, their needs will grow and we want to ensure we are there to provide support every step of the way.”

Mbulawa Mugabe, Director, Country Impact and Sustainability, UNAIDS