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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | Southern Africa | SOUTHERN AFRICA: Armed forces to tackle impact of HIV/AIDS | | News Items
Friday 24 February 2006
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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Armed forces to tackle impact of HIV/AIDS

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


New awareness of HIV/AIDS among armed forces

WINDHOEK, 13 February (PLUSNEWS) - The impact of AIDS on the military has been a topic African armed forces have preferred to keep under wraps, concerned with issues of national security.

But in a step towards greater openness, military and civilian experts from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) gathered last week in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, as part of an advisory group to discuss a regional response to AIDS in the defence sector.

"The weakening of African national defence forces can potentially undermine efforts to build credible and effective state institutions," said Angela Ndinga-Muvumba, a researcher at South Africa's Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR).

"With a prevalence rate of at least 25 percent among the population of many SADC countries, it follows that the impact of AIDS on military personnel is high," said a concept paper prepared for the conference jointly by the CCR and the University of Namibia.

Since the early 1980s African militaries have been aware of the AIDS problem, but have lacked the resources or policy framework to address the issue, said Martin Rupia, the head of the MilAIDS project of the Pretoria-based Institute of Strategic Studies.

Typically armed forces in the region have unofficially barred HIV-positive recruits, but have been unable to keep their young soldiers HIV-free, and have viewed with suspicion any attempt to quantify the impact of AIDS on their personnel.

"But that bridge has now been crossed," said Rupia. A commitment by SADC's Organ on Politics, Defence and Security to finally recognise AIDS as an issue, which African militaries need help in addressing, could turn the armed forces into "change agents" within wider society.

"We as SADC are determined to implement the integration of AIDS into the defence Organ's security initiatives," said Namibia's deputy defence minister Victor Simunja when closing the advisory group meeting last Friday. "This year will see the beginning of the implementation of the Strategic Indicative Plan of the Organ (SIPO) and to integrate AIDS into it."

As current chair of the Organ, Namibia will draw up an action plan "to share with other SADC member states," said Adekeye Adebajo of the CCR. "It will be forwarded to government leaders at the annual SADC summit next August."

Rupia said while the region's armed forces test for HIV, they have not had the capacity to provide counselling, improved nutrition and home-based care for their HIV-positive soldiers. With the military now more willing to open up about AIDS, policies could now be put in place through SIPO to better address the problem, he added.


AIDS-prevention policies promote stigma - expert,  28/Oct/05
HIV/AIDS eroding region's development, says UN report,  7/Sep/05
Farm workers neglected in HIV/AIDS prevention efforts,  11/Aug/05
HIV/AIDS, hunger a security threat, WFP warns,  1/Jul/05
New approach to aid required, says report,  20/Jun/05
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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