Up to Half of South African Soldiers in Some Units Could be HIV-Positive, Reports Says
As many as 50% of the soldiers in some units of the South African army could be infected with HIV, a prevalence that has helped "paralyz[e]" the country's armed forces, the Daily Telegraph reports. The South African army currently comprises more than 76,000 individuals, but a lack of funding and a high HIV infection rate have made the army -- once the "most feared in the continent" -- a "bit of a farce," according to Philip Schalkwyk, the defense spokesperson for the opposition Democratic Alliance party. Although the exact HIV infection rate in the country's army is considered a state secret, it is believed to average more than 30%, with some units averaging more than 50% (Butcher, Daily Telegraph, 7/16). A medical specialist at a South African military hospital said that 60% of soldiers tested HIV-positive after admission to the facility, adding that an HIV prevalence of 60% among soldiers in the armed forces is "feasible." Seventy percent of deaths in the armed forces are attributable to AIDS-related causes (Le May, London Independent, 7/15). The statistics were presented by South African Defense Ministry officials to members of Parliament during a press briefing.
A member of the South African National Defense Force said that soldiers stationed far from home are especially susceptible to HIV infection because of "boredom and access to local prostitutes." The armed forces have considered implementing compulsory HIV testing on all recruits but have not done so out of constitutional concerns (Daily Telegraph, 7/16). South African soldiers are currently tested for HIV only when they are operationally deployed. Thandi Modise, chair of the parliamentary committee that heard the briefing, said that Defense Minister Mosioua Lekota has been asked to take "immediate remedial action to stop further deterioration" of the army (London Independent, 7/15). However, Lekota said that the military is "perfectly placed to fulfill its obligations to the country" and that he had "no reason to believe [it] would fail or be unable to defend the country." He said that "only" 23% of the military is HIV-positive (SAPA/BBC Monitoring, 7/17).