Down East AIDS Network Director Testified on Challenges of Treatment in Rural Communities
WASHINGTON, DC— The Senate Special Committee on Aging, led by Chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Ranking Member Susan Collins, today held a hearing titled, “Older Americans: The Changing Face of HIV/AIDS in America.” The purpose of the hearing was to examine the challenges faced by older Americans living with HIV/AIDS, including limited medical treatment available to patients living in rural areas. Kenneth “Kenney” Miller, the Executive Director of the Down East AIDS Network (DEAN), testified about the challenges older HIV/AIDS patients face in rural Maine. Of the 1,654 people living in Maine with a diagnosis of HIV, about 50 percent are over age 50.
Hearing witnesses described the growing population of those over age 50, and even older, living with AIDS, the stigma associated with the disease and lack of treatment in rural areas, as well as additional chronic health problems associated with aging experienced at younger ages by HIV/AIDS patients.
“Advances in medicine have drastically improved the quality of life, as well as increased the life expectancy of those who are HIV positive and those who are living with AIDS,” said Senator Collins. “While these are extremely positive developments, we must now look at the changing needs of older patients with the disease, and how we can better meet these needs.”
Senator Collins said that the education and outreach related to HIV/AIDS must be updated to reflect the changing realities of the disease. “This is no longer a disease that affects primarily young males.”
The Senator also pressed on the need for more research to examine why older individuals with HIV/AIDS are not only aging at a faster pace than a healthy adult at the same age, but why these individuals are also prone at earlier ages to suffer from diseases that are more common among older Americans.
Kenney Miller explained that in rural areas, people living with HIV and their providers that serve them face a complex set of challenges related to the rural nature of the state. “While much has been said and written about HIV and aging, and HIV and rural areas, there has been little exploration of the intersection of these issues,” he said. Mr. Miller explained that in small communities in particular, there is a stigma associated with being HIV positive that often makes it difficult for some to seek appropriate treatment.
Depression among older AIDS patients and the challenges of appropriate treatment were also issues that were discussed today.
Also on today’s Committee panel were Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, an official at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Carolyn Massey, an HIV patient and activist from Maryland; Daniel Tietz, Executive Director of the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America (ACRIA), and Rowena Johnston, PhD, Vice President and Director of Research of amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS research.