HIV/AIDS Spreading Rapidly Through Peacekeeping Troops in Africa
With HIV/AIDS "raging" within African military troops, some military experts fear that a number of countries will soon be unable to participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions if the disease continues to spread unchecked, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Reliable data on the number of soldiers with HIV/AIDS are unavailable because few military units perform HIV tests on their soldiers. But UNAIDS estimates that many African armies have infection rates two to five times as high as that of the civilian population. In South Africa and Angola, experts believe that as much as 40% of the military could be HIV-positive, while in Zimbabwe, 70% of troops could be HIV-positive. In Cameroon, the infection rate of the military is four times that of the civilian population. Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, urged the United Nations to better educate peacekeepers about the virus because many U.N. peacekeeping troops come from African countries with high HIV prevalence rates. "It would be the cruelest of ironies if people who had come to end a war were spreading an even more deadly disease," he said to the U.N. Security Council last year. Experts also are worried about the spread of the disease from soldiers into the civilian population. Soldiers usually contract the disease from prostitutes, but may then go on to infect their wives and children, leading to "one of the main ways the virus is being spread around the continent," the Mercury News reports.
Ugandan officials say that they have taken steps to address the problem by testing soldiers, establishing prevention programs and providing soldiers with free medication for opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis. The country's officials say they have lowered the HIV rate among Ugandan soldiers from 25% in the late 1980s to about 15% now, although some experts say the actual figure is higher. However, even Uganda's military hospitals lack the medicine to treat infected soldiers and their families (Raghavan, San Jose Mercury News, 4/8).