General PV says HIV/AIDS prevalent among uniformed forces as regional experts meet to strategise

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Defence forces commander General Phillip Valerio Sibanda has bemoaned prevalence of HIV and Aids among the military personnel saying the scourge was a serious challenge that requires urgent address.

Gen Sibanda was officiating at the 6th Zimbabwe Uniformed Forces Health Services Conference which opened at a local hotel in Victoria Falls on Wednesday.

He called for collaboration on health bases within the military across Africa for home grown solution.

Without giving statistics, Gen Sibanda said those in the military were the worst affected by the disease which is prevalent among the productive age group.

“We are gathered here because we are committed to addressing the challenges posed by HIV in general and the operational environment in particular.

“HIV prevalence rate in Zimbabwe stands at 14.7 percent and the age group mostly affected and which happens to be the reproductive age of 15-49 years is also the age group into which most of the military personnel fall,” said Gen Sibanda.

He said the fact that the disease is sexually transmitted poses a real challenge to the uniformed forces because deployments are always away from spouses.

The conference which ends Friday seeks to fight HIV and is being held under the theme “HIV and the operational environment”.

Gen Sibanda said the theme is relevant to the military as HIV and Aids continue to wreak havoc.

He said the uniformed forces had adopted some mitigatory measures as implemented by African member states as a way of fighting the disease.

Among some of the measures is behaviour change, structural interventions, abstinence, condom usage, avoiding multiple sexual partners.

He said members of the uniformed forces were among the 1 million that were circumcised, a method viewed as also key in HIV prevention.

“HIV prevention remains the most effective approach to curtail new infections and minimising the impact of the epidemic.

Gen Sibanda called for acceptance of those living with the disease as he called upon members not to stigmatise.

“It’s therefore my fervent hope that this gathering of good, leading researchers, medical professionals, programme implementers and policy makers will share knowledge, research findings and experience to affect policy practice within the services.

“The gathering should come up with resolutions that have a lasting solution to the challenges,” added Gen Sibanda.

Health experts from the military in Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe are attending.