An unprecedented number of older people will be living with HIV and HIV-related conditions by 2020, adding further pressure to Australia’s already strained health and aged care system.
A new report released this week, commissioned by the National Association of People Living with HIV (NAPWA), predicted that in ten years time Australia will experience a relative increase in its older HIV-positive population, an increase in the number of new HIV infections, and a greater proportion of people with HIV living outside major metropolitan areas
It also states that of the nation’s HIV-positive population, 44 per cent will be aged 55 and over, compared to the current statistic of 26 per cent.
Head of the NCHECR’s Surveillance and Epidemiology Program for Public Health, Associate Professor David Wilson, explained the increase as being largely due to the life-prolonging impact of effective antiretroviral treatments. He also mentioned that people are now, typically older (in their late-30s) when they become infected than what was once the case.
“Most PLHIV can now have life expectancies close to the uninfected population if they are regularly monitored by their doctors and take antiretroviral treatment as recommended,” Associate Professor David Wilson said.
“The expected rise in the average age of Australians living with HIV will present challenges for health providers, as age-related medical issues such as cancer, frailty and other morbidities start to increase.”
Associate Professor Wilson stressed the need for Australian policy-makers, aged care organisations and health professionals to plan for a one-third increase in the total number of people living with HIV (PLHIV), from 21,000 now to about 28,000 in 2020.
Action, he said, should be taken now to ensure that there are enough specialist clinicans employed and resources in place to be able to deal with the increase, as it happens.
“Currently we have specialists clinicians, skilled in this area but in the coming years these clinicians will not only need to be skilled [in dealing with HIV-positive issues] but also in the more complex issues like cancer, renal failure [etc]…”
“This is a preparatory study so that we can understand what is going to happen, so that we can put some resources in place- an appropriate number of clinicians with the appropriate training.”
The report also highlighted that increasing numbers of HIV-positive Australians will, in future, be living outside major metropolitan areas. This, Associate Professor Wilson said, will therefore require more specialist clinicians to be working beyond city borders.
“I am asking people to recognise where things are moving to, and in light of this, what we need to do.
“We need more well organised structures and training needs to be more streamlined for people coming through in aged care or other services. And this training needs to be built up, well organised and more mainstream.”