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Navy Targets AIDS In African Militaries

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2001 – The U.S. Navy is taking the lead in a DoD effort that is helping to combat the spread of AIDS within the ranks of the militaries of several African nations.

The Naval Health Research Center in San Diego has been sending medical teams to sub-Saharan Africa since October as part of a two-year anti-AIDS initiative, said Cmdr.  Richard A. Shaffer, manager of DoD's component of the Leadership and Investment in Fighting an Epidemic Program.

The teams are tasked to assist with HIV prevention programs in African militaries with ties to DoD, Shaffer said. Countries currently involved are South Africa, Botswana,  Angola, Kenya, Benin, Zambia, Lesotho, Ghana, Ethiopia and Nigeria, he said, adding other countries may join.

Other U.S. organizations involved with LIFE initiatives include the Agency for International Development, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Health Resources and Services Administration, naval researchers said.

In fiscal 2000, the LIFE program provided $100 million in U.S. support for HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment in sub-Saharan Africa and India, according to the naval center. DoD has received about $10 million to combat AIDS in African militaries.

In some African countries, as many as a third of the military personnel may be infected with HIV, Shaffer said. DoD personnel are assisting many of those militaries in meeting the following objectives:

o Establish HIV/AIDS-specific policies for military personnel;

o Adapt and provide HIV prevention programs;

o Train military personnel to implement, maintain and evaluate HIV prevention programs;

o Provide information/training to change high-risk HIV attitudes and behaviors among military personnel;

o Integrate and make use of other U.S. government programs and those managed by allies and the United Nations.

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, is caused from infection by the human immunodeficiency virus, according to the CDC. More than 430,000 Americans have died from AIDS since the disease was discovered in the late 1970s.

Awareness and prevention campaigns, combined with the availability of medications that retard the effects of the disease, have slowed the spread of AIDS and reduced the numbers of related deaths in the United States in recent years, the CDC notes.

 However, the U.S. State Department estimates that almost 14 million people worldwide have died of AIDS, and that more than 95 percent of people with HIV live in developing nations. Ninety-percent of children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic, for example, live in sub-Saharan Africa.

 Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, speaking to news correspondents during a Feb. 4 interview, noted: "AIDS is a national security problem; it's an economic problem; it is a devastating problem, especially in Africa, in sub-Saharan Africa. Millions of people are at risk.

 "… And this creates a major problem for Africa and other parts of the world where AIDS is spreading. So it is a pandemic and it requires our attention," he said.

 DoD also sees AIDS as a global humanitarian issue that impacts U.S. security interests, Shaffer said. 

 "If you are concerned about (international) stability … and about militaries actually being capable for not just defending their own borders, but (also) peacekeeping operations, then you want to make sure that they don't have big problems with a disease such as HIV," he concluded.

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