Central Africa boosts anti-AIDS fight in army

Central Africa boosts anti-AIDS fight in army
# 23 July 2010 02:27 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Military health officials from the eight members of the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC) have formed an HIV/AIDS prevention and surveillance unit to boost fight against the disease, APA reports quoting Xinhua News Agency.

The military health officials who have been meeting in Yaounde, Cameroon for a three-day seminar since Tuesday noted that health surveys had revealed that this region had an increased number of officers contracting HIV and other infectious diseases such as Ebola and Chikungunya.

The statistics show the spread of HIV/AIDS in the army was worrying in recent years: Cameroon recorded 9.8 percent in 2002 and 11.3 percent in 2005; Chad, 8.5 percent in 2009; Equatorial Guinea, 10.1 percent in 2008; and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), 8.3 percent in 2009.

The finding is striking compared with two decades ago when AIDS was a taboo, the general population denied it and the Cameroonian army and its counterparts from other countries in the Central African region played the leadership role in fighting the disease in their communities.

The threats are looming large. The objective of the Yaounde conference is to bring together military health officials to share experiences and enhance cooperation.

"We shall use the sub-regional network that was established to fight against AIDS to carry out surveillance against the human flu. We shall train the members of the network by use of funds from the American army," a Cameroonian military doctor Eitel Mpoundi Ngole told Xinhua on the sidelines of the forum.

SURVEYS AND OTHER MEASURES AGAINST PREVALENCE
Participants advocate an evaluation of links between HIV prevalence and behavior, and the popularization of knowledge about HIV/AIDS at military schools and in training programs.
Some propose the introduction of curriculum on AIDS as well as compulsory testing for all contingents of the United Nations peace keeping missions.
In fact, Ngole said, progress has been made in curbing the disease due intensified prevention campaigns and research with the support from financial donors like Global Viral Forecasting Initiative (GVFI) and the American Army Defense Department (DHAPP).
Among the achievements was the 2002 creation of an army health research center (CRESAR), which was followed by a treatment center.
In Chad, the army is involved in the fight against AIDS through the National Anti-AIDS Program.
To bring the prevalence under control, a number of surveys were carried out within various army groups, Adrinkaye Allao Dounia, who is a military health services director, told Xinhua.
The first carried out in 1995 revealed a rate of 10.2 percent among the army. In 1997, two other surveys were carried out showing that the prevalence rate among the airforce was 8.4 percent.
Two other surveys were conducted respectively in 2003 and 2009 with the finding of rates ranging from 5.4 percent to 8.4 percent.
The surveys led to the opening of a Voluntary Counselling Center at the military hospital in N’Djamena, Chad and another center for Anti-Retrovirals (ARVs). "We are only missing a virology center," Adrinkaye said.
For the Central African Republic, Eudes Obangba-Ngai said the rates of HIV prevalence in all regions range from 3 percent to 7 percent. "The national average is 6.2 percent," he added.
With the support from Cameroon’s John Hopkins group, the Central African Republic found in its survey a 7.8 percent prevalence rate in the army.
"We have a testing center based at Bangui and a treatment center based at Bouar barracks which is situated about 400 km from Bangui town," Obangba said.
In Gabon, a program was launched by the Defense Ministry in 2002 to fight AIDS within the army. Since then, two surveys have been carried out with the support from GVFI and DHAPP.
"We discovered that HIV prevalence in the military stood at 4 percent. And this was slightly lower than what was observed among the general public, where the rate stood at 8 percent," Jamot Essono of the Gabonese Defense Ministry said.
"We can not say we have our own military treatment center, but we use the Franceville based International Center for Medical Research from where we get ARVs for our patients," he added.
CONTROVERSY IN DR CONGO
In DR Congo, the first survey was carried out in 2007 in the Kinshasa barracks, according to Felix Tshala, a coordinator of the military program to fight AIDS within the armed forces.
"I must say that this first survey was clouded in controversy since it gave us a HIV prevalence rate of 50 percent within our armies. In order to verify those percentages and know how deep the problem had gone, we carried out another HIV survey later in 2007 with support from DHAPP. This survey gave us a prevalence rate of 3.8 percent."
He noted that these conflicting figures would not give a true prevalence rate since his country has witnessed a long period of war.
War was identified as one of the reasons for the spread of HIV / AIDS. "We should wait until we carry out research in other regions that were seriously affected by war so that we can know the extent to which the disease has spread," Tshala said.
To have a permanent solution to the problem, he said, "we have intensified our HIV/AIDS sensitization campaign, voluntary counselling, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and we are also working to prevent mother to child infections."
"We have treatment centers ... we hope to have a research center," he said.
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