This year, 2019, is the first time when nearly half of all people living with HIV in the U.S. are over 50 years old. By 2030 that number is expected to increase to 70 percent.  June 5 is HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day. Long-term survivors are those who were diagnosed before most of the breakthroughs for HIV treatments. 

These are the people who made it through the epidemic.  They spent years not knowing if they would live or die. They buried loves ones. They marched, cried, supported, and survived, when many others did not. Today, many face challenges related to their physical and mental health. Many also struggle with feelings of isolation and financial issues—30 years ago there was no reason to plan for a future because it didn’t seem like one was possible if you had HIV.

‘The needs of people who are long-term survivors are unique,” said Chris Lacharite, himself an HIV long-term survivor. “We are the first generation of people with AIDS who are now growing old. And our lives are complicated by aging and ageism and lack of money and resources.” 

Lacharite is also the program manager of an HIV long-term support network in Palm Beach County.  

We’re providing social events and educational opportunities and other kinds of things that help promote wellness and connections with each other,” Lacharite said. “We have twice monthly dinners, and we go to the museum, and all kinds of outings that bring people out of isolation.”

The theme of this year’s HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day is Empowered to Thrive.  

“So much of the focus on the epidemic now is on a cure, and as a manageable chronic disease,” Lacharite said. “But for long-term survivors and people aging with HIV, it’s not so fabulous. A lot of us take between eight and twelve medications a day, there are lots of side effects, and there are issues with adherence. We want the voices of long-term HIV survivors to be heard, understood, and honored.” 

June 5 is a day set aside to honor the long-term survivors and increase awareness of their challenges. 

“A lot of the long-term survivors are the real heroes of this epidemic,” Lacharite said. “They are the ones who had to put up with all the bullshit with health care providers and funeral home directors; they are the ones who volunteered for clinical trials, and protested in ACT UP marches, they are the ones who stood vigil for their friends and loved ones who were dying. That’s what HIV Long-Term Survivor Awareness Day is all about.”

On Wednesday, June 5 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Lacharite facilitates a panel discussion about what it means to be a long-term HIV/AIDS survivor.  

It takes place at Compass—201 North Dixie Highway, Lake Worth, FL 33460. The event is free and includes dinner. Register if you plan to attend