War Spreading HIV in African Nations; Congo Experiencing Increase in Disease Prevalence
The "cycle of war" in African countries is spreading HIV, the Washington Post reports (Wax, Washington Post, 11/13). Civil war in African nations, including Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has helped HIV "flourish" through "widespread rape, displacement of hundreds of thousands of people with little or no access to health care or condoms, and the increase in prostitutes following soldiers in a ruined economy," according to the Washington Times. The spread of HIV in "war-ravaged countr[ies] bereft of the means to treat or even monitor its spread" is a "hidden crisis" on the continent, the Times reports (Thibodeaux, Washington Times, 11/13). In countries where "war has been more common than peace" over the last several decades -- including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Congo -- HIV prevalence has "ballooned," according to the Post. For example, in Congo before the war, approximately 5% of the population was HIV-positive; however, in areas of the country where fighting has been most intense, 20% of the population is thought to be HIV-positive, according to a UNAIDS program in Kinshasa and the government's Health Ministry (Washington Post, 11/13). HIV/AIDS is "destroying" Congolese society, with 1.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS and 680,000 AIDS orphans in the country, the Times reports.
Rape and Military Personnel
People working to fight HIV in war-torn African countries are also concerned about the "trail of Congo's rape victims," who total in the hundreds of thousands, according to the Times. Many of the rape survivors were assaulted by groups of "front-line" soldiers, among whom HIV prevalence is five times higher than in the general population, the Times reports. Dieudonne Zirirane of Population Services International said that African countries' militaries "don't want to show the prevalence of AIDS among their forces because it's a strategic issue. No military is going to admit that 20% to 30% of its forces is dying of AIDS" (Washington Times, 11/13). Zirirane added, "It's hard to convince an unpaid fighter to wear a condom knowing they are going to go out and rape someone. It's hard to change that sort of mind-set. But this is war. What else can we do?" Bisimwa Gaspard, a nurse at a military hospital in Congo, said, "We have big illness here. But we only have rubbing alcohol to treat it," adding, "We know [HIV is] spreading. To be very honest, it's very much out of control now" (Washington Post, 11/13).