The future of support: HIV and ageing

Working with Commonwealth and state governments on developing successive national and Victorian HIV/AIDS strategies was a major area of ongoing advocacy for the VAC/GMHC, providing the organisation with opportunities to contribute to the facilitation of a coordinated response to the epidemic. At the end of 2006, DHS commissioned an external audit of HIV Services in Victoria. The department decided not to re-establish a Ministerial Advisory Committee on HIV and AIDS, but to instead establish an HIV Prevention Taskforce to examine the rise in infection rates since 1999 and to make recommendations on a strategic response.60 The 2008 state budget included $15.5 million in funding over four years to reduce rates of HIV transmission and other communicable diseases, enabling the VAC/GMHC to dedicate longer-term funding to prevention activities.61

This was a greatly welcomed development; however, the government’s focus on prevention initiatives due to the continuing increase in HIV notifications was to the detriment of much-needed support services. In 2009, Kennedy described the troubling consequences of the HIV Prevention Taskforce and the resulting shift in focus for organisations involved in HIV service provision:

The most immediate effect of this has been a substantial downgrading of care and support issues, as the Taskforce has been asked to focus on HIV prevention and have had no members appointed with expertise in care and support. Addressing this imbalance will be a focus of advocacy for VAC/GMHC, its community and other partners in 2010. In particular, we will be making the point emphatically that care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS deserves government, clinical and community attention and a high quality response in its own right and not just as a form of secondary HIV prevention.62

Since 2010, care and support for positive people has been high on the agenda due to the rise of a new challenge: the complications associated with people growing older with HIV/AIDS. It has now been seventeen years since the Vancouver World AIDS Conference when David Ho first introduced HAART to the world and HIV/AIDS ceased to be a death sentence. While it was a difficult road at first, trialling different combinations of drugs and balancing the side effects of each, the advent of HAART meant that PLWHAs were able to look forward to birthday after birthday, rather than wondering if each one might be their last.

While growing older generally involves associated health problems, aging with HIV is much more complicated. There is growing evidence that living long-term with HIV and the side effects of HAART can accelerate the ageing process, adding to the complexity of the care needs of PLWHAs. VAC/GMHC Executive Director Mike Kennedy wrote in 2010, ‘The increasing numbers of aging people living with HIV and the increase in HIV age-related co-morbidities will have implications across all VAC/GMHC services’.63 Since then, the VAC/GMHC has focused on developing relationships within the aged care sector and with various medical specialists, as well as working with existing partner organisations around HIV and ageing. Discussions have included the expansion of services in various areas, including issues such as fall prevention, assisting ageing PLWHAs to maintain their independence, and expanding medical services into areas such as monitoring bone mineral density and cognitive functioning in positive clients.64 Through close partnerships with clinical services such as the Royal District Nursing Service and The Alfred Hospital, the organisation is in a strong position to meet these challenges. However, in the coming years it will be essential that the VAC/GMHC focus on ways in which it can best support an ageing HIV positive community.


Joy FM team

Joy FM team celebrate the 300th episode of Well, Well, Well, the VAC/GMHC Health Promotion team’s radio program, in 2011.

Tex McKenzie, Jill Young and Jason Asselin.

RDNS anniversary

Celebrating 21 years of the VAC/GMHC’s partnership with the Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS) in 2012. Victorian Minister for Health, David Davis, VAC/GMHC Executive Director, Matt Dixon, RDNS HIV Program Manger, General Manager and Director of Nursing, Martin Wischer and Clinical Nurse Consultant, Liz Crock.