"I was referred from the other side": Gender and HIV testing among older South Africans living with HIV
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South Africa has a Universal Test and Treat (UTT) policy in place to ensure that everyone tests for HIV and can access treatment if they test positive. The aim of this study is to document the pathways that older South Africans who are living with HIV take to access testing and treatment in this context. Despite the aging of the HIV epidemic in South Africa and clear evidence that testing older persons (over age 50) is necessary, very little is known about the circumstances under which older persons test for HIV or their motivations for doing so. In this study, we analyze 21 qualitative, in-depth interviews with women and men aged 50 and over who are living with HIV from two townships outside of Cape Town. Using grounded theory to specify emerging themes, we find similarities and differences between older men and women in their pathways to testing. Men primarily test for HIV when their spouse is diagnosed or in connection with TB testing and treatment. Older women, who are more likely to be widowed or divorced, often test for HIV only when they are symptomatic or not responding appropriately to care for non-communicable diseases. Most importantly, we find that older South Africans do not seek testing as a response to risk. Instead, older men and women test only once they are symptomatic and referred by a provider, or as a result of a partner's status. Our respondents, particularly the women, expressed ªshockº and confusion at learning they were HIV-positive because they do not see themselves as at risk of acquiring HIV. Because the benefits of UTT are greatest with early detection and treatment, older persons' tendency to test at such a late stage of illness decreases the individual and population level advantages of UTT. More research is needed to understand older persons' risk and testing behavior so that policy and programs include HIV testing messages that reach this population.