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What’s Hard About Living with HIV/AIDS When You’re Over 50? (Whatever Happened to Magic?)

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By Monica Gray on April 27, 2011


HV Man-on-the-Street Czar Monica Gray asks folks all over, “What’s Hard About It?,” to help do her part to help tackle our nation’s problems. Click here to see what else she’s gotten to so far.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s shocking announcement that he had tested positive for HIV and would retire from basketball. At the time, the most optimistic view was that Johnson might live another five or 10 years, while many feared he would succumb to infection much sooner.

Today, Magic – now in his 50s – is still living with the virus, a concept that was unheard of in the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic first surfaced. While he may be one of only a few guys his age who can still play competitive basketball, the fact that Magic is living with HIV/AIDS in his 50s is hardly unique. In fact, about one-third of people who have the disease in the U.S. are 50 or older. This figure will grow to one half by 2015. The reasons are partly encouraging, such as improved treatments, but also discouraging –- the number of new HIV cases in older people continues to grow.

Magic is perhaps the most public example of someone living with the virus at 50+, but his image can glamorize the realities of what it’s like to grow older with the virus. For “ordinary” people across the country within the growing HIV+ 50+ cohort, day-to-day life means dealing with all of HIV/AIDS’s associated stigmas while also confronting the regular challenges that go along with aging.

In this video, I spoke with people living in the DC metro area who face growing older with HIV/AIDS first-hand and those who provide them with support: church leaders at the Unity Fellowship Church of Washington, DC, and the Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore, MD; medical experts at the Jacques Initiative, a holistic care program for urban populations infected with HIV; and employees at Our Place DC, a non-profit that helps formerly incarcerated women get back on their feet. They all helped shed light on the myriad of challenges faced by older people living with HIV or AIDS.

While researching the tremendous challenges of this issue, I also discovered reasons for hope, such as the remarkable support efforts taking place at the community level. After having had the opportunity to meet with Reverend Keith Holder and other leaders and HIV/AIDS activists affiliated with the Unity Fellowship Church, I was eager to create a video to help advocate as well as inform. As I mention towards the end of the video, Campaign to End Aids (C2EA), a coalition of people living with HIV and AIDS who are committed to ending the epidemic, will hold a conference on the issue on May 21 in Brooklyn, NY. “Growing Old and Loving It and Living with HIV and AIDS” will focus on uniting people in the 50+ community to obtain better housing and medical access. The event is sponsored by the 50+. I encourage you to learn more about the organization and get involved.

In a nutshell, it’s great news that people with HIV are living longer, but as this video illustrates, living with HIV when you’re 50+ is hard…

What are your thoughts on the video and the issue? Weigh in below…

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