IRIN News Examines Sierra Leone Military’s Approach to Controlling HIV/AIDS
IRIN News on Tuesday examined how Sierra Leone's armed forces are addressing HIV/AIDS in the military through HIV/AIDS-related health services, a "pioneering information campaign" and the first HIV/AIDS workplace policy in the country. While there are no official HIV prevalence figures for the country's armed and security forces, it is estimated to be about three to five times the national rate, which is 1.5%, according to James Samba, HIV/AIDS coordinator for the armed forces. The military was the first public sector group in Sierra Leone to institute an HIV/AIDS workplace policy, which protects military personnel from being fired because of their HIV status. The policy also calls for antiretroviral drugs to be provided at no cost to soldiers who need them through grants from the World Bank and the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, IRIN News reports. In addition, the Wilberforce armed forces barracks has a center that provides voluntary HIV testing and counseling at no cost to soldiers, their families and civilians in the surrounding community. The armed forces also have involved soldiers' wives to raise awareness among women in the barracks about HIV/AIDS and to promote condom use, IRIN News reports. Although the army's information campaign has received international acclaim, Leopold Zekeng, UNAIDS Country Coordinator in Sierra Leone, warned that all of the factors that contribute to further spreading of an HIV epidemic -- illiteracy, low condom use, lack of knowledge and high risk sexual behavior -- are present in the country, adding that only when all soldiers have been tested for HIV and are aware of their status would "real progress ... have been made," IRIN News reports (IRIN News, 5/8).
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