African Military Personnel Among the Most Vulnerable to HIV Transmission, Study Says
Personnel in southern African armies are among the groups most vulnerable to HIV transmission, according to a study supported by the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa, IRIN/AllAfrica.com reports. The study, titled "The Enemy Within: Southern African Militaries' Quarter-Century Battle With HIV and AIDS," looks at armies in Botswana, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe to determine soldiers' risk of HIV transmission. According to UNAIDS, the risk of HIV transmission among military personnel in Southern African countries is two to five times higher than among the general population during peacetime, and the risk increases during times of conflict. In addition, Botswana and South Africa are the only countries in the region that supply HIV-positive troops with antiretroviral drugs during external operations, Martin Rupiya, co-author of the study, said. The study finds that militaries in sub-Saharan Africa report 20% to 40% HIV seropositivity rates, and in some countries where HIV/AIDS has been present for more than 10 years, the rate is as high as 50% to 60%. Reginald Matchaba-Hove of the University of Zimbabwe's Department of Community Medicine and co-author of the study said that the risk of HIV transmission among soldiers is high because they often are in situations in which there are opportunities for causal sex; they have steady incomes, privileges and power, which could create unbalanced sexual relations with local civilian populations; they are away from their families for long periods of time; and they are at risk of occupational infection from carrying wounded soldiers. In addition, "Those in the military are predominantly in the most sexually active age groups, and young recruits may be socially inexperienced," according to Matchaba-Hove. Rupiya said that because "southern Africa represents a market of some 230 million people, of whom perhaps 20% are infected with HIV and require medication," the region should focus on establishing factories to manufacture inexpensive antiretrovirals to treat the region's working population. In addition, the study urges the region's militaries to resist covering up the epidemic, to acknowledge gay relationships and to conduct comprehensive HIV/AIDS studies to help fight the spread of the disease (IRIN/AllAfrica.com, 10/4).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.