February 22, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudan’s army on Wednesday appealed for concerted efforts to fight against HIV/AIDs, stressing that the war against the sexually transmitted disease cannot be fought by one institution or group of some officials tasked by the government.
Speaking in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Wednesday, Lieutenant Colonel John Woja, the HIV/AIDS Secretariat Programme Manager of the military, warned that prevalence of disease poses a big threat to the military. He called on media to complement the efforts of his directorate in sensitising civilians and the army.
“The fight against AIDS is not a simple task. It is a fight that needs all of us because war against this disease requires concerted efforts. It is war that cannot be left to one institution such as national AIDS commission or some officials tasked by the government. It is a work requiring all of us”, Colonel Woja explained
The military officer said his directorate was facing many challenges some of which included logistics to reach divisions and military out posts. He also mentioned training and lack of testing materials and equipment.
The senior military official said the prevalence rate of the disease within the army is over four percent. He said that they were working towards having to a situation where they have no new soldiers becoming infected by 2015.
“With technical assistance from our partners, we are exerting efforts to ensure we meet the target by 2015. The aim of this campaign is that there should be zero infections by 2015”, he said.
He thanked United Nations Population Fund for providing condoms to the army and stressed that AIDS poses a big threat to the military.
The United Nations on Monday pledged it would work together with the government of South Sudan and a non-governmental organisations (NGO) to combat HIV/AID.
“The military has a big number of young people who are more at risk of contracting HIV,” Bannet Ndyanabangi, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) deputy representative for South Sudan, said a statement seen by Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.
He said that “one of the tools to fight the infection is by giving them condoms.”
UNFPA distributed some 140 cartons of condoms to members of the South Sudan army (SPLA) at a ceremony held the country’s Teaching Hospital located in the capital Juba.
This follows similar assistance in which about 4.3 million male and 43,000 female condoms distributed throughout South Sudan. Ndyanabangi noted that there is a higher demand for male condoms than for female ones, and added that women should be taught the importance of using the devices.
“Female condoms give women the power to decide whether to use them without negotiating first,” he said, adding that cultural taboos played a critical role in spreading the infection.
“In many cultures, sex is what is discussed in the bedroom. But because of HIV, we have to come up and talk about sex openly in order to fight it.”
South Sudan had a relatively low rate of HIV/AIDS up until 2005 when a peace deal opened up the region to immigration and returnees from neighbouring countries with higher rates, such as Kenya and Uganda.