Soldiers among most vulnerable to HIV
Saturday 27 March 2004
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AFRICA: Soldiers among most vulnerable to HIV

JOHANNESBURG, 20 February (PLUSNEWS) - Tough, gun-toting soldiers remain one of the groups most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS in Africa. According to US National Intelligence Council and UN estimates, between 10 and 60 percent of military personnel are HIV positive.

"African militaries, trained to defend their borders against foreign enemies, are under attack from a far more insidious foe," said a recent report by the family planning NGO, Population Services International (PSI). "The stealthy AIDS virus can decimate their armies as surely as any human invaders."

PSI's prevention programmes, targeted at the military and uniformed services, are based on strategies promoting partner reduction, correct and consistent condom use, knowing one's status through voluntary counseling and testing (VCT), increased self-risk perception and the reduction of stigma towards HIV-positive people.

The PSI programmes are underway in Namibia, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with funding from the US Department of Defence and the US Agency for International Development.

PSI's affiliate in Namibia, the Social Marketing Association (SMA), runs an "edutainment" programme that reaches thousands of soldiers across the country with information on how they can change their behavior to avoid HIV and STIs. Part of these efforts has included an educational film: "Remember Elphias".

The film, which was distributed to all Namibian military bases, emphasises that soldiers' social and sexual activities affect not only them but also their families. SMA is already working on the sequel.

Another facet of the SMA project is a drop-in centre that offers VCT and outreach assistance to soldiers in home-based care.

In Mozambique, PSI supplies military bases with condoms, and also provides them to bars and retail outlets in the vicinity of the bases. This year they will implement VCT at the bases and hospitals.

In the DRC, PSI has established condom wholesalers at the largest military base, Camp Kokolo, and five other military and police camps. With the aim of expanding the behaviour change achieved at Kokolo to other sites, military peer educators have been trained in using visual aids, role-play and discussions that encourage soldiers to "be prepared and protected".

"The weakening and death of millions of people from HIV is anticipated to have a serious effect on the security and stability of high-prevalence countries and regions. With escalating rates of military personnel infected, armed forces could face a reduction in combat readiness and mobilisation difficulties, making the country vulnerable to rebel groups, coups and even foreign invasion," PSI reported.

UNAIDS has estimated that in peacetime, soldiers run a risk of HIV infection two to five times greater than civilians. In times of conflict, with large-scale population movements and war brutalising human relationships and encouraging sexual violence, soldiers can pose a serious HIV risk to the rest of society.

Probably the single most important factor contributing to HIV infection among military personnel is being posting away from their communities and families for long periods of time. Besides freeing them from traditional social controls, and absence from their regular sexual partners, it encourages the growth of sex industries around military bases, where safe sex is not always practiced.

[ENDS]

Recent AFRICA Reports

Interview with Hilda Tadria, regional gender advisor at ECA, 26/Mar/04
Rights groups protest possible US threat to AIDS drug access, 26/Mar/04
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 174, 26 March 2004, 26/Mar/04
Interview with researcher Paul Harvey on humanitarian aid and HIV, 24/Mar/04
UN Volunteers funds NGO programme to sensitise Pygmies on HIV/AIDS, 23/Mar/04

PARTNERS

PlusNews is produced under the banner of RHAIN, the Southern African Regional HIV/AIDS Information Network. RHAIN's members currently include:

  • UNAIDS

  • IRIN

  • Inter Press Service (IPS)

  • SAfAIDS

  • PANOS

  • Health Systems Trust

  • Health & Development
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  • GTZ/Afronets


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