Tough, gun-toting soldiers remain one of the groups most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS in Africa. According to US National Intelligence Council and UN estimates, between 10 and 60 percent of military personnel are HIV positive.
PSI's prevention programmes, targeted at the military and uniformed services, are based on strategies promoting partner reduction, correct and consistent condom use, knowing one's status through voluntary counseling and testing (VCT), increased self-risk perception and the reduction of stigma towards HIV-positive people.
PSI's affiliate in Namibia, the Social Marketing Association (SMA), runs an edutainment programme that reaches thousands of soldiers across the country with information on how they can change their behavior to avoid HIV and STIs.
Another facet of the SMA project is a drop-in centre that offers VCT and outreach assistance to soldiers in home-based care. In Mozambique, PSI supplies military bases with condoms, and also provides them to bars and retail outlets in the vicinity of the bases. This year they will implement VCT at the bases and hospitals.
In the DRC, PSI has established condom wholesalers at the largest military base, Camp Kokolo, and five other military and police camps. With the aim of expanding the behaviour change achieved at Kokolo to other sites, military peer educators have been trained in using visual aids, role-play and discussions that encourage soldiers to be prepared and protected.
UNAIDS has estimated that in peacetime, soldiers run a risk of HIV infection two to five times greater than civilians. In times of conflict, with large-scale population movements and war brutalising human relationships and encouraging sexual violence, soldiers can pose a serious HIV risk to the rest of society.
Probably the single most important factor contributing to HIV infection among military personnel is being posting away from their communities and families for long periods of time. Besides freeing them from traditional social controls, and absence from their regular sexual partners, it encourages the growth of sex industries around military bases, where safe sex is not always practiced.(Source: IRIN PLUSNEWS, http://www.irinnews.org/ 20 February)