Strive To Thrive While Growing Older With HIV

By Dennis McMillan
Published: February 11, 2010

Nelson Vergel. Photo by Rink.

Positive Force will present “Survivor Health Wisdom: Strive to Thrive While Growing Older with HIV” on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 6:30-9:30 p.m. at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market and Octavia Streets. Join Nelson Vergel, author of Built to Survive, for the latest information on lipoatrophy, combating premature aging, and much more. A light dinner will be provided. To take advantage of the fact that Vergel will be in the Bay Area for a conference, Positive Force scheduled this event on the third Wednesday of the month. Twice annually, Positive Force produces a community health forum on a hot button issue. “Survivor Health Wisdom…” is a Positive Force community health forum.In this instance, they decided to do a forum on HIV and aging. The face of HIV changes with each passing day. For example, thanks to treatment advances, many people living with HIV today are living longer lives. Along with longer lives come the usual health concerns: increased risks for heart disease, non-HIV related cancers, bone loss, decreased mental function, etc.
However, a plethora of recent research has clearly demonstrated that people living with HIV are suffering from accelerated aging; sometimes their minds and bodies manifest problems decades earlier than their HIV-negative counterparts. Consequentially, researchers, medical providers, treatment advocates, and HIV-positive people alike are trying to figure out how to conquer this new phase of living with HIV.Many community forums on HIV and aging involve doctors and other socio-medical professionals speaking clinically, and providing the same information, from the same point of view, time and time again. Positive Force decided to move in a different direction. They invited Vergel, a man who has lived with HIV for more than two decades and who is an internationally renowned treatment advocate, to discuss HIV and aging concerns from a peer perspective. Vergel has traveled the world talking about living and thriving with HIV; has written books on the topic; and has been featured in numerous publications for his expertise and perspective.
Participants who attend the forum will benefit from Vergel’s unique perspective, presentation style, and lots of information. He will present the latest treatment information, both clinical and practical, for a range of subjects, including but not limited to lipodystrophy/ lipoatrophy, accelerated aging of both mind and body, and sexual health. Forum attendees will walk away with a better handle on how to deal with problems they may already be facing and how to prevent new problems associated with HIV and aging.Vergel is a 27-year HIV survivor, Venezuelan, retired chemical engineer, lecturer and author of Built to Survive, founder of the Body Positive Wellness Clinic in Houston, and treatment activist involved in research advocacy. Bay Times interviewed him recently. “I am the founder of pozhealth at, the largest online health discussion group, and serve as an expert at, the HIV web site with the largest reach in HIV related health issues,” he said. “I have provided over 600 lectures since 1994 in English and Spanish. I am a member of the DHHS HIV Treatment Guidelines Panel. I have presented in many conferences about issues related to living with HIV.”What is different about what he does is his being able to lecture in layman terms by blending the latest research data with a patient perspective.
He spoke of the hot topics in HIV in the next five years. “The search for a cure using stem cell and immune based therapy research will become more important as well as how to deal with long term effects of HIV medications on aging, frailty, cognitive function, bone density, frailty, body changes, and others,” said Vergel. “Combating stigma and dealing with challenges in funding will be essential to controlling the spread of this epidemic.”Vergel provides a unique angle to patients. He speaks in their language about the latest research findings on facial lipoatrophy options, cardiovascular health, sexual dysfunction, hormonal balance, exercise and nutrition, latest HIV medications for those with limited treatment options, side effect management, and many other issues that are important to patients.

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