Policy-maker attitudes to the ageing of the HIV cohort in Botswana
Background: The roll out of antiretroviral therapy in Botswana, as in many countries with near universal access to treatment, has transformed HIV into a complex yet manageable chronic condition and has led to the emergence of a population aging with HIV. Although there has been some realization of this development at international level, no clear defined intervention strategy has been established in many highly affected countries. Therefore we explored attitudes of policy-makers and service providers towards HIV among older adults (50 years or older) in Botswana.
Methods: We conducted qualitative face-to-face interviews with 15 consenting personnel from the Ministry of Health, medical practitioners and non-governmental organizations involved in the administration of medical services, planning, strategies and policies that govern social, physical and medical intervention aimed at people living with HIV and health in general. The Shiffman and Smith Framework of how health issues become a priority was used as a guide for our analysis.
Results: Amidst an HIV prevalence of 25% among those aged 50–64 years, the respondents passively recognized the predicament posed by a population aging with HIV but exhibited a lack of comprehension and acknowledgement of the extent of the issue. An underlying persistent ageist stigma regarding sexual behaviour existed among a number of interviewees. Respondents also noted the lack of defined geriatric care within the provision of the national health care system. There seemed, however, to be a debate among the policy strategists and care providers as to whether the appropriate response should be specifically towards older adults living with HIV or rather to improve health services for older adults more generally. Respondents acknowledged that health systems in Botswana are still configured for individual diseases rather than coexisting chronic diseases even though it has become increasingly common for patients, particularly the aged, to have two or more medical conditions at the same time.
Conclusions: HIV among older adults remains a low priority among policy-makers in Botswana but is at least now on the agenda. Action will require more concerted efforts to recognize HIV as a lifelong infection and putting greater emphasis on targeted care for older adults, focussing on multimorbidity.
Keywords: ageing population, older adults, PLWH, HIV policy