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DoD Helps Other Nations Address HIV Challenges

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2005 – As the world commemorates World AIDS Day today, the U.S. military is at work, helping 67 militaries worldwide address HIV and AIDS within their ranks.

This global outreach program, now in its fifth year, is lending U.S. military medical expertise and capabilities to help other militaries confront the AIDS epidemic, according to Richard Schaffer, executive director of the DoD HIV/AIDS Prevention Program, based in San Diego.

For some of these militaries with HIV-positive rates as high as 35 percent, AIDS presents not just a health crisis, but also a readiness challenge, Schaffer said during an interview here with the American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.

"Health is a very important readiness issue, for our forces and others," he said. "So we have a keen interest in protecting our forces and a keen interest in helping our partners stay healthy."

Because military members are often regarded as role models and opinion leaders in their communities, DoD's efforts are having an effect on civilian populations too, Schaffer said. In many cases, military leaders also serve on their government's AIDS coordinating agencies, helping shape their country's HIV policies and programs, he said.

As it helps other militaries and nations confront HIV and prevent its spread, the DoD program is also opening doors to new military-to-military relationships, Schaffer said. This includes new cooperation with countries that have never before partnered with the U.S. military.

"I know of many examples where that has happened, where by virtue of the medical people talking, that provided the opportunity for others in the two militaries to talk," Schaffer said. "I know that we have actually made connections with militaries when there really wasn't any other way ... for the U.S. military to get involved."

The DoD program has grown steadily during the past four years and now includes 67 countries in Africa, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia, the Far East, and Central and South America.

Schaffer was quick to point out there's no cookie-cutter formula for the DoD support, and all 67 programs are different. In some countries, U.S. military medical teams operate on the ground, advising their host-nation counterparts on ways to prevent HIV and treat HIV-positive members.

Elsewhere, military members serve as part of a U.S. government team. In other countries, DoD provides funding or other support to nonmilitary organizations that interact directly with the military.

"It runs the gamut, from U.S. military people on the ground, to contracting in the name of DoD, to assisting other agencies and other partners around the world and simply offering advice," Schaffer said.

While it's still too soon to determine the program's effectiveness in terms of HIV prevention, Schaffer said one measure of success is a country's reduced need for U.S. military support.

He pointed to Togo as "a huge success" because that West African country is now able to sustain its own HIV program.

"We're not looking to be there for the long term if they don't need us," Schaffer said of the program. "Our job is to go in, establish sustainable programs and let them pick up their programs and run with it.

"One way to look at success is when they don't need our help and are still able to put together good programs," he said.

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DoD HIV/AIDS Prevention Program

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