The graying of AIDS – Stories from an aging pandemic

Wherever people have access to lifesaving treatment, what was once thought impossible has become increasingly common: people with HIV/AIDS are living into their 50s, 60s, and beyond. As of 2015, half of all people living with HIV in the United States are age 50 or older, and by 2020 that percentage is expected to rise to 70%. More than 3 million people age 50+ are thought to be living positive in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, a number that could triple by 2040.

Ageist beliefs about who is at risk for HIV regularly get in the way of potentially life-saving information being shared with so-called “older adults.” (When tracking HIV/AIDS statistics, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines people over age 50 as “older adults.”) Here in the U.S., people age 50 and older are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV later in their disease progression towards AIDS than their younger counterparts; as a result, older adults often start treatment late and regularly suffer from more HIV-related health problems. Again, ageism plays a role: whether because of lack of training or cultural taboos and social discomfort, health care providers are less likely to ask their older patients about their sex lives or substance use, and are less likely to test those patients for HIV.

Around the world, HIV/AIDS data collection often stops at age 49, so the numbers we have are often estimates based on projections grounded in data gathered on younger positive adults. What we know with certainty is that the need for aging-related HIV/AIDS services will continue to grow as future generations have the opportunity to age with the virus. But there are a lot of questions that need answers: What new medical challenges will arise from decades of living with HIV/AIDS, prolonged use of antiviral medications, and aging itself? What kind of support will HIV-positive older adults need in the long-term? What are we doing to prevent new HIV transmissions among adults later in life? And how can we best take advantage of the wealth of experience, passion, and insights this pioneering generation has to share?


The Graying of AIDS is a collaborative documentary project created by visual journalist Katja Heinemann and health educator Naomi Schegloff. For five years the team has worked to create media stories, multimedia art installations, innovative public health awareness campaigns with NGO partners, and educational materials that engage diverse audiences. The on-going “Stories from an Aging Pandemic” project is a participatory documentary installation and online archive. The Graying of AIDS team works with HIV-positive adults aged 50+ in a pop-up photo studio and interview station, creating a collective portrait of the first generation of adults able to grow “old” with HIV/AIDS. Thus far, more than 100 people representing 17 countries and 4 indigenous nations have participated in the project at the last two biennial International AIDS Conferences in the U.S. and Australia; the team hopes to travel to the next conference in South Africa in 2016 to complete the series for the 20th anniversary of HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy), the multi-drug antiretroviral therapy that made aging with HIV a possibility for so many.

Photography by Katja Heinemann/Interviews by Naomi Schegloff

See more images from The graying of AIDS and our other slideshows on Yahoo News!


Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) is another of our favorite naturalist/scientific illustrators. From childhood she was fascinated with insects and the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies. Trained as a painter, she beautifully depicted her observations about the life-cycle of insects. Her illustrations show not just the insects’ transformation, but the important role specific plants have in sustaining the animal during the various stages of development.
The images above are from her most important work,  Metamorphosis insectorum surinamensium (1705)which she created after receiving a grant from the city of Amsterdam to travel to the then Dutch colony of Suriname to study insects.

Hoogmoed Harlequin Toad - Atelopus hoogmoedi

Neotropical harlequin toads, genus Atelopus (Bufonidae), comprise a group of more than 100 diurnal, slow-moving species, which aggregate along streams for reproduction. For almost two decades now, Atelopus species have dramatically declined throughout their geographic range. 

Atelopus hoogmoedi is a species widespread on the eastern Guiana Shield with seemingly intact populations, not affected by chytrid fungus. Males of this species are permanently found along small streams and exhibit strong site fidelity, while females are encountered in forest at some distance from streams. 

References: [1] - [2]

Photo credit: ©Jan Ranson | Locality: Brownsberg, Suriname (2014)

Made with Flickr

Proud, beautiful and confident, that is the best way to describe the participants of the Surinamese “Avondvierdaagse”, a sporting four day event in which thousands of women, men and children walk approximately ten miles a day across the town of Paramaribo. 

Every year, after the Easter holidays, Suriname’s capital city becomes the stage of the most popular parade in its kind. And even though there are no links to the Christian carnival festivities, some people regard it as the Surinamese equivalent of the Caribbean Carnival. 

 Photo: CNN


Viviane Sassen: Pikin Slee, Suriname (2014) *new work hurray! currently on exhibition in CapeTown

Pikin Slee is the second-largest village on the Upper Suriname River, deep within the rainforest of Suriname. Its 4000 inhabitants are mostly members of the Saramacca tribe, their ancestors Maroons who escaped slavery on the Dutch plantations in the 18th century.

The Saramacca are isolated from the outside world, living without running water, electricity, roads or the internet. The only way to access the village is by canoe, a journey of about three hours up-river. They grow their food on small agricultural plots, producing cassava bread, pressed maripa palm oil and dried coconut.

*previously posted and praised here

**as always I love that Sassen’s subjects keep their secrets and mystery. 

Storytime: On 'Faluma'

Great example on how you can find your roots in unexpected places.

So, most West Indian people know the Allison Hinds soca version of ‘Faluma’. It’s undeniably still my all time favourite soca song and one of my fav songs in general. It’s just beautiful sounding to me and for years I would sing the words to this song, and my cousin and I would wuk up in her living room or me and my friends would have random soca parties in my dorm room and I would never know what I was saying while singing it.

One day an eternity later I was looking around the internet for lyric translations, and I discover it is originally a Surinamese Maroon song, originally recorded by Ai Sa Si, used in Winti (the African derived religion practiced in Suriname) for particularly water Kumanti (Akan) spirits. I saw Watra (Wata) Mama particularly mentioned for this song online by Winti practitioners but in both Guyana and Suriname, the idea is spoken more in plurals like “fairmaids” (Guyana) in general or watra mamas in Suriname. The difference is in Suriname they are also venerated Winti spirit whereas in Guyana she is a once venerated, then feared spirit, then turned cautionary children’s tale. Idunno how many times my dad done told me about “fairmaid” dragging people underwater forever and then expecting me to get some sleep after that. Anyway, in addition to this, the song’s cool because Faluma “a dove” in the aong is a metaphor for the spirit of African peoples and the singers are saying it was killed and asking who killed it, asking at the end “Mama a yea yea dunah?”

Thing is Dutch Berbice near the Canje River in Guyana is near Suriname’s (formerly Dutch Guyana) border and once upon a time the two countries were one colony and the practices were very similar. However, Suriname has kept their African religions more intact whereas Guyana’s Comfa practices have slowly been disappearing because of harsh Protestant colonial laws that are still, yes STILL in place against them (even if it’s just symbolically. They won’t get rid of them simply to piss people off and to make Comfa practitioners feel bad if they turn their shit too African for the mainstream tastes) and because of demonization in general. Comfa has become extremely Christianized and alot of information has been lost.

Like in Suriname, Afro-Guyanese once venerated spirits from “African nations” they named Kongo, Kromanti, Shango(Yoruba), Vudu(Fon), as well as Igbo. The accompanying Igbo drum rhythms I don’t know if they are still around and the song and dance for the Vudu drum rhythm is also gone as far as I know and have asked around about. But the drummer I heard from said he remembered the Vudu dance having something to do with a snake, the same as I read it was in Suriname. Wata Mama particularly also used to be venerated in Guyana heavily until the practices died out in the 60s because of a strict ban against them since the late 19th, turn of the 20th century. Which is a shame because Guyana is the “Land of Many Waters”.

It’s sad and it got me to wondering if Comfa info couldn’t be retrieved from what information could be collected from Suriname and Guyanese Comfa religion revived in a more African sense. I mean that sounds mad dismissive but I ain’t about heavy Protestantism and special attention given in Comfa practices to British spirits (I’m serious), quite frankly.

Anyway… all this always comes to mind whenever I play that song. That and the fact that it’s hilarious that Christian West Indians still whine up to this song during Carnival time, never knowing they giving Kromanti spirits they life. Lol. Excuse the rant.