Military forces from 20 countries in West and Central Africa have launched a regional HIV network to share information on combating HIV within their ranks and communities. It follows the example of other military-led efforts to fight the spread of HIV.
‘We need to harmonize our interventions,’ army captain Sami Kambiré from Burkina Faso told IRIN. ‘Without this network, what we have now are disparate strategies. We need to learn from one another what is working; what is not and why’.
A number of studies on HIV prevalence rates among sub-Saharan Africa’s armed forces have shown higher rates than in civilian populations, with the notable exception of Ethiopia’s forces.
The three-day conference that launched the regional HIV network of military forces in West and Central Africa ended Thurs 9th July.
Simeon Ekanom, coordinator of Nigeria’s armed forces program for AIDS control, told IRIN the Nigerian government has recognized the heightened risk for HIV infection among soldiers. ‘We are more mobile, far from our families. Men look to relax. Women come to the camps.’
The head of one of Nigeria’s state committees on HIV/AIDS told reporters in Aug ‘08 that both rebels and armed forces were committing rape in the Niger Delta conflict zone.
Returning soldiers had an HIV infection rate twice as high as that of the general population, according to a recent study conducted by the Nigerian civil military alliance to combat HIV/AIDS. The average nationwide HIV prevalence rate in Nigeria was 3.1 percent in ‘08, according to UNAIDS.
In ‘99 the Nigeria-based Pan African committee of military medicine found Nigerian armed forces had double the possibility of contracting HIV within three years of joining the army.
But Nigeria’s armed forces representative Ekanom said the situation has improved, though data remains scarce for HIV infection rates in the military. ‘Behaviours are changing. We go into the camps and talk to soldiers one-on-one. In groups, they do not internalize the message and think they could never get infected.’
The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution in 2000 identifying HIV infection in defence forces as a threat to international peace. In ‘01 a UN document raised the concern that ‘the UN itself may be an unwitting agent for the spread of the HIV virus around the world’ through its peacekeepers.