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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | Southern Africa | SWAZILAND: Army takes the lead in HIV/AIDS campaign | Prevention | DFID
Tuesday 11 July 2006
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SWAZILAND: Army takes the lead in HIV/AIDS campaign

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


Soldiers are changing their negative attitude towards HIV/AIDS

MBABANE, 7 July (PLUSNEWS) - The Swazi army controversially bars recruits who are HIV positive, but it has become one of the most progressive employers in the country when it comes to promoting voluntary testing among its soldiers.

Brigadier-General Sobantu Dlamini, the army's head, has visited each barracks housing the 3,000 soldiers of the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force advocating testing and counselling. He has also cautioned soldiers against stigmatising their HIV-positive comrades.

"This past six weeks, since the launch of a peer education programme, has seen a significant change in attitude toward HIV among soldiers," said Dr John Kunene, principal secretary for the defence force. The programme has trained counsellors for each barrack, and set up meetings where HIV-positive soldiers can discuss their lives.

"The army, and this is true of most of Africa, has stigmatised AIDS because people associated it with homosexuals, even though AIDS in Africa is overwhelmingly a heterosexual disease," said Kunene. Swaziland has the world's worst infection rate with over 40 percent of adults living with the virus.

The army's new initiative follows a lull in activity. Six years ago an initial AIDS awareness campaign was launched among the rank and file, with no discernable effect. The new campaign is funded by the United States Department of Defence, following its finding that AIDS represents a global security threat, particularly in Africa.

The programme will employ anonymous, unlinked testing of all army personnel to determine the extent of HIV in the ranks, beginning with commissioned officers and continuing down to the soldiers.

"The stigma is still there, but the top brass are supportive of testing. One of the generals goes around headquarters asking, 'Have you taken your ARVs? I know you need them, and it is that time of day.' Ordinary soldiers tell me, 'At headquarters, they really care,'" said Kunene.

However, he defends the decision not to draft recruits who test positive for HIV. "This is a life-saving measure, not discrimination. If you are exposed to HIV, and then you are challenged physically and emotionally during difficult military training, the eight-year incubation period for AIDS will be significantly lessened."


Recent SWAZILAND Reports
Demise of sugar industry hits healthcare services,  11/Jul/06
The vital but underestimated role of AIDS caregivers,  9/May/06
Empowering the youth in the fight against HIV/AIDS,  2/May/06
Comprehensive OVC policy unveiled,  19/Apr/06
Young heroes website appeals for help for AIDS orphans,  14/Feb/06
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

PlusNews does not take responsibility for info in links supplied.

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