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HIV/AIDS testing: suspicion and mistrust among Baby Boomers

By Chandra Ford

The seventh of February will mark the thirteenth National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Despite the fact that blacks make up only 14% of the US population, the CDC reports that blacks accounted for 44% of all newly reported HIV infections in 2009, the HIV infection rate among Latinos was nearly three times as high as that of whites, and 1 in 4 persons living with HIV/AIDS in the USA is an older adult (50+ years old).

The CDC reported that 1,600 White, 450 Black, and 300 Latino men aged 50 or older acquired HIV in 2009 through unprotected sex with other men. In other research conducted among senior-housing residents, investigators learned that 42% of residents had been sexually active within the previous six months. One third of the sexually active residents reported two or more partners during that period, but only 20% had regularly used condoms.

Alarmingly, older adults are prone to be disproportionately diagnosed in the late stages of HIV disease. Many older Americans who seek services in public health venues do not undergo testing for HIV infection, some due to mistrust in the government. Researchers in a recent study found among the 226 participants, 30% reported belief in AIDS conspiracy theories, 72% reported government mistrust, and 45% reported not undergoing HIV testing within the past 12 months.

Among African Americans, endorsements of AIDS conspiracy theories stem from historical experiences with racism and medical discrimination, although knowledge of African Americans’ experiences may lead members of other racial/ethnic groups to endorse such theories.

Making HIV testing routine in public health venues may be an efficient way to improve early diagnosis among at-risk older adults. Alternative possibilities include expanding HIV testing in nonpublic health venues. Finally, identifying particular sources of misinformation and mistrust would appear useful for appropriate targeting of HIV testing strategies in the future.

Key calendar dates:
7 February 2013               National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
19 May 2013                       Asian Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
27 June 2013                     National HIV Testing Day
15 October 2013               National Latino HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
1 December 2013              World AIDS Day

For further reading:

Dr. Chandra Ford is an assistant professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at UCLA. Her areas of expertise are in the social determinants of HIV/AIDS disparities, the health of sexual minority populations and Critical Race Theory. Ford has received several competitive awards, including the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Services Award (an individual dissertation grant) from the National Institutes of Health and a North Carolina Impact Award for her research contributions to North Carolinians. Her most recent research, “Belief in AIDS-Related Conspiracy Theories and Mistrust in the Government” in The Gerontologist, is available to read for free for a limited time.

The Gerontologist, published since 1961, is a bimonthly journal (first issue in February) of The Gerontological Society of America that provides a multidisciplinary perspective on human aging through the publication of research and analysis in gerontology, including social policy, program development, and service delivery. It reflects and informs the broad community of disciplines and professions involved in understanding the aging process and providing service to older people.

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