Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Trainings focus on
HIV and aging issues


Cesar Angel, left, and Hanna Tessema from Acria, discuss the availability of HIV services in San Francisco during the National HIV and Aging Community Mobilization meeting that was held last week at the LGBT Community Center. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Trainings being held in cities across the country, including San Francisco, are focusing attention on the needs of long-term survivors of HIV and AIDS.

The New York-based group Acria is the lead organization convening the sessions with health care providers, local agency officials, and community members in the various municipalities. The purpose is to foster better collaboration between HIV agencies and providers of senior services.

"These are organizations that didn't think they needed to work together before," said Hanna Tessema, who works for Acria's HIV Health Literacy Program as the HIV and older adults technical assistance associate manager and an HIV educator.

Based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, it is expected that by 2015 50 percent of people living with HIV in the U.S. will be over the age of 50.

As of 2013, 54 percent of people living with HIV in San Francisco were over the age of 50, based on data from the city's Department of Public Health. The number jumps to 84 percent when including people 40 years old and up.

In New York City, local data shows that 77 percent of the people living with HIV or AIDS were over the age of 40 as of 2012.

"The number of people 55 and over with an AIDS or HIV diagnosis speaks to how service providers might not be targeting older adults," said Cesar Angel, Acria's bilingual technical assistance manager. "Are they assessing risks with older adults the same way as younger adults? Many providers to this day do not think to treat older adults for HIV, but we see older adults are getting infected."

Agencies need to not only focus on "just those graying with HIV," added Angel, "but those getting infected after 50. The reality is we don't really have all that much going on right now for them."

Staff from Acria met with more than 75 people in San Francisco for a two-hour meeting November 14 and will be back in January to conduct a two-day training for up to 30 local leaders. In the spring two people from the Bay Area will be selected to join leaders from three other cities for a four-day training in New York City that Acria will be hosting.

"It is exciting to come here [to San Francisco] because we know people here are already doing this work," said Tessema.

The agency partnered with the local group Let's Kick ASS (AIDS Survivor Syndrome) to help promote last week's initial meeting.

"We are the new majority in the city. It is not a fringe issue; it is a big deal," said Let's Kick ASS co-founder Tez Anderson. "With aging issues, we have not made that bridge yet. Aging agencies are not as savvy with HIV issues as HIV people are with aging issues."

Acria staff said they were there to listen to the needs of the local community and would use the feedback to develop the agenda for the two-day trainings in early 2015. Some of the obstacles participants of the meeting said they see in San Francisco included a lack of mental health services; no central clearinghouse to learn about the services that are available; and a lack of services for women, people of color, and those who do not speak English.

Afterwards, several participants said they left the meeting unclear of what the goal of the future trainings will be.

"I didn't quite get what the capacity-building focus will be," Gregg Cassin, a local HIV educator and longtime survivor, told the Bay Area Reporter. "I left confused on what the whole purpose is."

He hopes one issue the next training will address is how local agencies can provide services to a broad array of clients and not offer programs that overlap on the same day and time.

"We haven't really come up with a community-wide solution for how do we address issues in an inclusive way," said Cassin.

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