Soldiers Particularly at High Risk

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, has called on the military leaderships around the world to change their attitude towards HIV/AIDS to bring about behavioural change. Kamwi said in Toronto, Canada, where he and seven other officials are attending the XVI International AIDS Conference, that the military should understand the implications the pandemic has on the force and on national security. He delivered two speeches to the High Level Session on ‘Leadership: Time to Deliver for Women and Girls’ and also on ‘Security and the Spread of HIV/AIDS: Challenging Military Leaders to Fight the Response’. “Undoubtedly, an armed force with a high infection rate will not be able to fulfill its primary mandate, that of providing national security and defending the territorial integrity of the nation,” he said. He said the military leadership need to set high standards of self-discipline and exemplary behaviour that include abstinence and protected sex. The military is more at risk of contracting the disease because the majority of the personnel are in the sexually active groups, the personnel are deployed far away from their homes and also because they have more money than local people, which gives them the financial means to purchase sex, said Kamwi. He mentioned three threats of HIV to the military: the loss of its readiness to perform its mission as morbidity and mortality could reduce the troop strength; it incurs increasing costs of recruiting and training replacements and increased health care; and also the impact of the pandemic outside the ranks of the military such as their home countries, where the infection rates could be lower. The minister said HIV/AIDS should be a strategic issue for which the commanding structure carries the primary responsibility. “Winning the war against HIV/AIDS in the military starts with a policy decision to mobilize the armed forces against the HIV pandemic and sexually transmitted diseases,” he said, adding that the leadership should commit itself to protecting the military as an institution and to safeguard the welfare of soldiers and their families. The conference that started yesterday focuses on five key challenges: accelerating research to end the epidemic, expanding and sustaining human resources, intensifying involvement of affected individuals and communities, building new leadership to advance the response and scaling up lessons from the field. On women and girls, Kamwi acknowledged that although progress has been made in gender equality, there are challenges relating to empowering women and girls and funding programmes related to the increasing number of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). Namibia now has 150 000 OVC, a problem that Kamwi said the ministry was trying to address by introducing programmes such as the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMCTP) in all public and private hospitals, and also the introduction of female condoms and sex education. In 2005, 4 710 HIV-positive women received Nevirapine prophylaxis. The country rolled out an anti-retroviral treatment programme which administers the drugs to 22 000 people, of which 64 percent are women.