AIDS Walk San Francisco supports new program to help older patients

Lyanne Melendez Image
Saturday, July 16, 2016
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Sixty percent of all HIV patients in San Francisco are over 50 years old. That aging population is already requiring more treatment and support. Enter UCSF's Ward 86, which is pioneering HIV care for those who struggle with changes in their later years.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- This year's AIDS Walk San Francisco is on Sunday in Golden Gate Park. The event has raised $86 million in just under three decades. Here's a look at how much the fight against AIDs and HIV has changed since the first walk in 1987.

"If you were at these functions, it got to the point that (you think) they're not here they must be dead," said AIDS patient David Howard.

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He described how in the 80s and early 90s, fear of contracting HIV quickly spread through the fashion industry where he worked.

Howard was diagnosed in 1984.

"My lifestyle and how promiscuous I was got me in this situation," he said. "I can't blame the world. I gotta get on it."

Like so many AIDS patients, Howard's life was extended thanks to antiviral drugs.

"They were like horse pills, six, three times a day," he said.

Today he's 55 and one of 2,500 AIDS patients registered at the Positive Health Program at Ward 86 at San Francisco General Hospital.

Ward 86 opened in January 1982 as an outpatient clinic. Today, it is the oldest HIV clinic in the world.

A new program to care for older HIV-positive patients is now being developed. It's called The Golden Compass. As the patient grows older, the devastating effects of the virus begin to manifest themselves.

"Especially the people who were infected early on, there are higher rates of heart attacks, higher rates of kidney disease, higher rates of cancer," said Monica Gandhi, MD, Medical Director of HIV Clinic Ward 86.

Like a compass, the program will focus on four areas of care -- the heart and mind of the patient; their bones and strength; their dental, hearing and vision well-being; and their social networking all in one place.

"It is so hard to navigate health care, it is so hard to navigate transportation when you're older and you feel frail, we want everything here," said Gandhi.

Howard says so far life is still good and is ready for this new stage of his life.

"Obstacles are going to come at you left and right anyway," he said. "If you are healthy or not it doesn't matter. It's meant to come at you to go forward, not to have you stuck."

The Golden Compass Program is one of three sponsored this year by AIDS Walk San Francisco. With their support, the program will launch by January 2017.