Gen Sibanda calls for re­search into HIV-re­lated prob­lems

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page - Nqobile Tshili/Nozwelo Hadebe Chron­i­cle Cor­re­spon­dent

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

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