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Armies Spread AIDS in Africa

April 12, 2001

AIDS is ravaging Africa's militaries at a time when much of the continent needs them to keep peace. Peacekeeping troops who are trying to maintain order in Sierra Leone, Liberia and other war-torn African countries are among the main agents for spreading HIV. Soldiers spend long periods of time away from home and contract HIV from prostitutes, who are attracted to army camps. Then the soldiers, most of whom are between ages 15 and 24 and do not use condoms, subsequently infect their wives.

Although it is not known just how many soldiers in Africa are infected with HIV, experts have estimated that as much as 40 percent of the military in Angola and 70 percent in Zimbabwe may be infected. In Cameroon and other African countries, the rate in the military is two to five times higher than in the civilian population, according to UNAIDS. But there are no reliable figures on how many soldiers are infected because not all militaries test for HIV. And because HIV is expensive to treat, many military hospitals do not have enough medicine to treat infected soldiers or their families.

Some countries, such as Uganda, have begun setting up prevention programs that test soldiers, provide them with free medication for HIV-related illnesses and raise general awareness about the disease. Ugandan officials said they have lowered the AIDS rate among their soldiers from 25 percent in the late 1980s to around 15 percent, though some contend the figure is higher.

Miriam Talugende, who contracted HIV from her soldier husband and started an organization to help women like her, said part of the solution to the problem could be re-educating the wives of soldiers. Some African women, she said, are taught to obey their husbands at all costs, even if obedience means death.

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Adapted from:
Atlanta Journal Constitution
04.11.01; Sudarsan Raghavan


  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 
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