One-Fifth of S. African Military HIV-Positive; Defense Minister Says Statistics Cause ‘No Alarm’
More than one-fifth of South Africa's military is infected with HIV, but Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said that the high prevalence should cause "no alarm," the AP/Los Angeles Times reports. Lekota estimated that HIV prevalence in the military is between 20% and 22% and said that the government is working to reduce the number of HIV infections. Lekota added that supporters of the former apartheid regime are trying to destabilize the government by saying that the military is "ravaged" by HIV/AIDS, according to the AP/Times. "All of this noise every day about HIV/AIDS and so on that suggest that this country is about to collapse as a result of HIV/AIDS are really unfounded," Lekota said (AP/Los Angeles Times, 10/8). AIDS activists called Lekota's picture of the military's situation "irresponsible and misleading," according to the Associated Press. "It is disappointing for a person who is chairman of the ANC and minister of a department most affected by AIDS to say something as irresponsible as this," Pholokgolo Ramothwala of the South African HIV/AIDS treatment advocacy organization Treatment Action Campaign said, adding, "As a minister he should be leading the fight against HIV, yet he is misleading the country."
Defense Analysts, Opposition Party Concerned
Helmoed Heitman, an analyst for Jane's Defence Weekly, a military and defense magazine, said, "If 23% of your military is going to be dead because of AIDS in 10 years time, the minister of defense should be ringing alarm bells" (Sylvester, Associated Press, 10/7). Heitman said that a high HIV prevalence in South Africa's military could have "serious consequences" because troops with weakened immune systems could not be deployed to certain locations and their HIV status could be a risk in combat, according to the AP/Times. "If they get wounded and there is blood all over the place, who is going to treat them?" Heitman asked (AP/Los Angeles Times, 10/8). Mike Waters, spokesperson on HIV/AIDS for the Democratic Alliance opposition party, said, "Lekota's suggestion that there is no alarm when it comes to HIV/AIDS in South Africa is wrong, irresponsible and not supported by the facts," adding, "If [the fact that more than 1,000 South Africans die of AIDS-related causes each day] does not cause alarm within the ANC cabinet, I shudder to imagine what does" (SAPA/AllAfrica.com, 10/7). Other sub-Saharan African countries' militaries also have high HIV prevalence, according to the Associated Press. Approximately 50% of the military forces of Angola, Congo and Malawi are HIV-positive. The HIV prevalence among Swazi troops is 48%; among Zimbabwean forces, the rate is 55%; and in Zambia, 60% of the military is estimated to be HIV-positive, the highest prevalence on the continent (Associated Press, 10/7).
White House Web Chat
National Security Council Senior Director for African Affairs Dr. Jendayi Frazer will answer questions today in the online interactive forum "Ask the White House." A transcript of the chat will be available online after the discussion.