Gen Sibanda calls for research into HIV-related problems
THE Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) General Phillip Valerio Sibanda yesterday challenged experts to employ research in addressing problems affecting the uniformed forces battling with HIV and Aids related issues on the continent.
Officially opening the 6th Uniformed Forces Health Conference on fighting HIV in Victoria Falls, Gen Sibanda said the HIV and Aids pandemic was still causing havoc to the uniformed forces and their loved ones despite the medical progress made to control the disease.
The three-day conference running under the theme: “HIV and the operational environment” started yesterday with eight countries participating.
The ZDF Commander said the theme was relevant to problems faced by the uniformed forces while on duty.
Gen Sibanda said most military deployments increased members’ risk of contracting the HIV virus as they are deployed away from their spouses.
“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. The epidemic is sexually driven with over 80 percent of all infections being sexually transmitted,” he said.
“This poses a real challenge to the uniformed forces because our deployments are almost always, away from spouses while the majority of the members are in the sexually active age group.”
Gen Sibanda said military operations were stressful and the situation was even worse for those affected by the disease.
He, however, said little research has been conducted on how to improve the operational environment for those living positive.
“It is therefore, my fervent hope that this gathering of leading researchers, medical professionals, programme implementers and policy makers will share knowledge, research findings and experiences to influence policy and practice within the services, on how best to deal with affected members in an operational and indeed any other environment,” he said.
“As I conclude my opening remarks, I would like to state that I strongly believe that this gathering should come up with resolutions that have a lasting solution to challenges faced by both the infected and the commanders on the issues of deployment both locally and beyond our borders.”
Gen Sibanda commended efforts that have been taken to improve access to health care for those infected by the disease on the continent.
He said concerted efforts have resulted in the HIV prevalence dropping from 30 percent in 1999 to 14, 7 percent in Zimbabwe.
“It is inspiring to note that a lot of progress towards addressing the problem of HIV/Aids has so far been made in Africa. In this regard, more people than ever before are receiving Anti-Retro Viral Therapy and more affordable drugs and commodities can now be accessed by those needing them,” said Gen Sibanda.
He said societies have also dealt with stigma associated with one being HIV positive.
Other countries that are participating at the conference are South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique and Tanzania. — -@nqotshili