By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
On the eve of the annual December 1 World AIDS Day, the Pentagon reports that it has expanded its program to help friendly militaries deal with the issue to 80 nations, including India and Russia. "This is a very important connection to other militaries," said Dr. Rick Shaffer, executive director of the Defense Department's HIV/AIDS Prevention Program.
Initially focused on African militaries where about one third of the troops are infected, the Navy-sponsored program has been expanding to militaries where there is little infection but a need to boost protection from HIV infection, Shaffer said. Started in 1982 for the U.S. military, the Pentagon uses the program to reach out to other militaries through cooperative initiatives based on the Defense Department's long experience with AIDS. "The U.S. military was one of the first militaries to go through the HIV epidemic," said Shaffer. "We're one of the historical founders of HIV programs." About 1,000 American troops have AIDS.
The program is funded under the president's AIDS initiative to the tune of about $85 million, and Shaffer said that it will go so far as to build medical facilities for nations that invite the department to help. In Russia, for example, the Pentagon is helping equip a special laboratory where AIDS tests take place. And in several African nations, the military is boosting efforts for World AIDS Day to increase awareness of AIDS prevention. Shaffer's office supplied a rundown of those efforts:
SNAPSHOT OF IN-COUNTRY ACTIVITIES ON WORLD AIDS DAY 2009:
Country: Kericho, Kenya
Description of Activity: There will be HIV and AIDS prevention talks in various institutions in Kericho during the last week of November. Also soccer matches during November, the finals being on WAD day. In addition, there will be a beauty contest and body building contest to attract local participants. Counseling and Testing will be offered during events and the community to be mobilized using local artists and a music extravaganza.
Description of Activity: A Kickball Match between the AFL Soldiers and Implementing Partners will be held. Surrounding communities in close proximity to the barracks will be invited particularly high schools.
Also, a Volley ball match between SEA BEES (US Navy) and the AFL
Description of Activity: During World AIDS Day in Mozambique, the US Department of Defense in collaboration with the Mozambican Military and PSI/Mozambique will conduct recreational activities including football games that integrate messages around HIV prevention and testing. At these events, military leaders will speak of the importance of HIV testing and combating stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV in the military. Soldiers living with HIV will testify to the importance of not discriminating against PLWHA with the slogan "Somos positivos e negativist. Jogamos juntos, sem stigmas. "We are positive and negative. We play together and work together without stigma." This slogan is part of a national campaign with the National AIDS Council (CNCS) and PSI that will be adapted for the military around World AIDS Day.
Country: Sierra Leone
Description of Activity: On the 3rd of December the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces HIV and AIDS Prevention Program sponsored by the Department of Defense, US embassy in Freetown will hold its Annual Peer Educator Drama Competition. This year's drama competition will be based on the theme PMTCT. Here we will have HIV and AIDS drama performances from all 15 Peer Educator Units in Freetown. At the end of the performances, judges will announce the winner. The winner and runners up will be given trophies and other prizes.
Activity: In collaboration with the CDC, USAID, the Embassy and other local partners, host a game show based on the American TV show Jeopardy (adapted to the local audience) to increase HIV awareness and prevention.