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HIV infections on the rise among armed forces

Author: Deng Dimo | Published: Sunday, August 11, 2019

A soldier is tested for HIV during UNAIDS 'Right to Health' campaign in Bor, South Sudan in 2018. PHOTO: O. Headon/IOM

The South Sudan People’s Defense Force says there is an increase in the rate of new HIV infections among members of the organized forces.

The Director of HIV/AIDS in the SSPDF, Yohana Mabor Deng says about three-in-ten members of the organized forces are infected.

He attributes the growing prevalence rate to ignorance of the pandemic disease by the forces.

According to UNAIDS, uniformed personnel, including peacekeepers, frequently rank as the population most affected by sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Mabor says an estimated 12,500 soldiers in the SSPDF have been found with HIV, while a total of 69,200 have tested positive in the entire organized forces made of police, prisons, wildlife and the SSPDF.

This number, he said is derived from those who reported to the hospital for treatment of various diseases.

“The level of HIV is increasing; out of 200,000, the uniformed forces and the army makes an increase of 34.6 % of those living with HIV within the army and other uniform forces,” said Mabor.

UNAIDS says military personnel are two-to-five times more likely to contract Sexually Transmitted Infections than the civilian population, and during the conflict, this factor increases significantly.

Dr. Achol Ayom, the Deputy Director for HIV/AIDS Commission, says there is also a general increase in new infections across the country.

In 2016, government estimates showed that the number of people living with HIV is 204,000, and out of this figure, around 20,000 were on Anti-retroviral Therapy, and the prevention of mother-to-child infection services.

There was a small reduction in the number of those infected among the adults from 16,000 in 2016 to 14,000, while in children, it went down to 13,000 from 18,000 the same year.

Dr. Achol says the prevalence rates have increased this year to 2.9% from last year’s 2.7%.

She blames the upsurge on the five-year conflict, which she said forced people into the displaced person’s camp where risk factors are high.

“People do not understand that when you have sexual relations with someone you don’t know well, it may result in some infections. People need to use a condom because you may not know whether your partner has the virus, or may it is you who has it” said Dr. Achol.

HIV is commonly spread through sexual contact with an infected partner. It can be prevented through abstinence, being faithful to one partner, or the use of condoms.

Dr. Achol urges “people to know their HIV status.”

The World Health Organization says access to quality prevention, care and control services is extremely low in among the internally displaced.

It also said less than 15% of people living with HIV know their status, of which about 20 000 have access to HIV treatment.

The organization added that the low capacity of health workers and poor coordination are the key challenges limiting access to HIV lifesaving treatment in the country.

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