By Ana Arellano
It is hard to imagine that men remain sexually active into their 80’s and 90’s. More active than older women, they are also more at more at risk to have HIV or AIDS.
Equally vulnerable as younger men, men over 50 are less likely to be tested for HIV. They are more private about their sexual lives. Latino Community Services of Hartford has responded to their outlook by developing the first intervention program in the nation for at-risk Latino men age 50 and older.
“As the first program in the country, we hope this will serve as a model for other states,” says Angel Ruiz, coordinator for Project REACH (Real Elders Achieving Community Health.) Under the REACH program from LCS, “Healthy Men, Healthy Lives,” has created an intervention program for providing older men with information and a way for to openly discuss their sexual lives.
Managers of elderly housing buildings and members of social networks help identify the men who are most likely to benefit from an intervention. The men are then invited to participate in five weekly meetings about healthy behaviors for protecting themselves against HIV. Though most are Latino, men from other backgrounds are also welcome. According to the web page, these are the topics for each of the meetings:
- What does it mean to be healthy?
- How substance and alcohol abuse affect older adults
- HIV and its impact on older adults
- Condom use and condom negotiation skills
- Teaching healthy behaviors to your loved ones
Once the men complete the meetings, Latino Community Services follows up on their health and attitudes. “Seven weeks after completion, men are given a blood test,” says Ruiz. “At six months, they receive a second blood test, and also complete a questionnaire.” The blood tests determine if the men have HIV (Mr. Ruiz says routine tests ordered by doctors do not test for this.) The questionnaire gauges how their attitudes have changed by participating in the intervention.” ‘Healthy Men, Healthy Lives’ ” has 147 participants,” says Ruiz. “Although our original goal was 150, we can accommodate 500 men.”
Latino Community Services recently developed a publicity campaign, ¡Protéjete! (Protect Yourself!) The campaign will place posters in city buses to raise public awareness of the risk older men face from HIV. It was launched on July 23 with Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and Latino Community Services Executive Director Yvette Bello at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in City Hall.
“It is critical that our Latino population becomes aware of prevention programs, testing services and other programs that are available to them. Older Latinos need to be informed about the transmission and prevention of HIV,” says Bello.
The LCS press release describes that according to the Centers for Disease Control, people aged 50 and older account for approximately:
• 16% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses
• 27% of persons living with HIV
• 33% of persons living with AIDS
• 19% of all AIDS diagnoses
• 38% of deaths of those living with AIDS
Ruiz says, “Sexually active older men believe that HIV testing is not for them, it is only for younger people. As one of our posters says, ‘Age is Not a Condom.’”
For more information, contact Angel Ruiz from Latino Community Services at (860) 296-6400 x240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.