When you think of a person with HIV, do you imagine a grandparent? A person in a nursing home? Or someone counting the months to retirement? If not, think again. According to the CDC, of the 1.2 million people in the U.S. living with HIV, half of them will be 50 years of age or older this year. Thirty years ago, that statistic would have been thought unimaginable. Today, however, it’s cause for grateful celebration, renewed hope and a traveling exhibit designed to inspire dialogue, eradicate stigmas and share the faces and stories of individuals who are living well beyond their HIV diagnosis.
“When HIV first appeared in the U.S. in the 80s, there basically wasn’t an answer for the epidemic,” says Glen Pietrandoni, senior director of virology in Specialty Pharmacy at Walgreens. “Mostly all any medical professional could do was hold a patient’s hand, offer nutritional supplements and antibiotics.”
Over the past 30 years, medical research, education and advanced medications have offered those living with the virus longer and healthier lives. “There haven’t been too many life-threatening health conditions like this that a society has been able to turn around so quickly,” Pietrandoni says. “That’s why we felt it was important to celebrate that fact and call attention to another reality—older adults living with HIV who may lack the support needed to help manage HIV and other health conditions that can accompany aging such as diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, osteoporosis, or cancer. By making their challenges known, more of us will be able to offer support.”
A New Portrait of HIV
In collaboration with The Graying of AIDS, an independent documentary project and educational campaign, Walgreens developed an art exhibition and awareness campaign featuring ten portraits of people over 50 living with HIV. Each individual was professionally photographed and allowed to share glimpses into their HIV journey. The stories and portraits were printed on canvasses that were stretched over 8 ft. by 8 ft. metal rectangular structures.
“Currently, I am one of many people across the country sharing my challenges and successes as we continue treatment for HIV while managing all the other factors that come with aging,” says Vanessa, 59, living with HIV since 1991, pictured above. “For me, living life to the fullest and sharing my story is extremely important and HIV is just a part of my life. It is important for people to know that you can live a normal life with HIV. Most importantly, I’m preparing for living beyond 59 and discovering all life has to offer.”
As the population of older Americans living with HIV grows, their daily realities and health concerns are changing. Walgreens pharmacists offer confidential, face-to-face counseling and can provide tailored medication therapy programs. Working with a patient’s doctor, our pharmacists can provide information to help manage medication side effects and review a patient’s medications to identify any potential drug interactions. This is especially important for older patients living with HIV who might be starting to take medications for conditions that may be associated with aging.
For more information about the “Well Beyond HIV” campaign and to learn where the art exhibit will stop next, please visit www.WellBeyondHIV.com.