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ANGOLA: US assists military with HIV/AIDS plan

Photo: IRIN
Researchers are attempting to discover HIV/AIDS prevalence rates among Angolan soldiers
johannesburg, 14 December 2004 (PlusNews) - The United States has been assisting the Angolan military in designing and implementing an HIV/AIDS strategy that focuses on prevention, testing and treatment.

"The Angolan-American collaboration is expanding HIV prevention to the geographic limits of the country by providing voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) in the border regions of Angola," said a report issued by the US Department of State.

The author of the report, Dr Eric Bing of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, California, noted that with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Angolan military had been able to work with the Angolan Ministry of Health to build or renovate VCT centres. These centres offer HIV testing and counselling to the troops before and after they learn the results of their tests.

"The centres also teach soldiers how to protect themselves and others from becoming infected with HIV/AIDS," the report added.

The Angolan-American collaboration has focused on strengthening the technical expertise of local health workers to ensure that HIV testing remains available.

The collaboration began in 2001 when the US Department of Defence funded an American team from the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science to go to Angola to assist the military in developing and implementing a strategic plan to combat HIV/AIDS.

Since then, the Angolan-American collaboration has developed an HIV prevention programme, collected data on the prevalence of HIV in the Angolan military, trained military health providers in HIV treatment and public health, and is opening HIV testing sites in the border regions of Angola.

The Angolan-American HIV prevention curriculum focuses on teaching soldiers how HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases are communicated, how to use a condom correctly, how alcohol use can put soldiers at greater risk of HIV, and the importance of HIV testing.

"Thirty HIV prevention activists were intensively trained in the curriculum and sent out to teach other soldiers. In the first two years alone, more than 40,000 soldiers were reached with prevention messages, and demand for condoms and HIV testing increased substantially," the report said.

In order to fight HIV/AIDS effectively, accurate data on the extent of infection and the rate at which the disease was spreading were critical. In 2003 nearly 3,000 soldiers throughout the country participated in a survey.

"The survey found that many Angolan soldiers were engaging in behaviour that placed them at very high risk for HIV, and that few knew how to protect themselves adequately against infection. Soldiers were also tested for HIV to determine how common the disease is among the Angolan armed forces."

The data collected during the study was being used to help guide and improve the armed forces' HIV/AIDS programmes, but the report did not divulge any statistics relating to HIV prevalence.

Although antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to treat HIV/AIDS have begun to reach Angola, military doctors have already been trained to treat HIV positive patients.

"Two Angolan military doctors received intensive HIV clinical training at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, California, in 2003, and have begun to train other military doctors in Angola," the report added.

Three more Angolan doctors have undergone three months of training in epidemiology and public health at Drew University and at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in the United States.

"These doctors have returned to Angola to lead programmes in HIV testing, laboratory support, and strategic planning. An additional doctor is currently earning a master's degree in public health at UCLA, so that he may return to run the Angolan military's research programmes," the report explained.

With increased awareness of HIV and greater availability of HIV testing and treatment, "the Angolan-American military HIV team hopes to avert more cases of the disease and ensure that people [in need of treatment] get the care that they need," the report concluded.

Theme (s): Other,

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

Other OCHA Sites
United Nations - OCHA
DFID - UK Department for International Development
Irish Aid
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation - SDC