PEPFAR Strengthens UPDF with Critical HIV Services
Uganda's military population is mostly young and prone to risk-taking behavior. The military mentality portrays risk takers as heroes. These characteristics, coupled with a mobile military lifestyle, combines with the right ingredients to form a high-risk population for HIV.
Accessibility to HIV/AIDS care and treatment services in the military is limited, especially for those in operation areas. Adding to the problem is the mobility of the military population and a multi-tribal consistency with no single uniform language. Inadequate numbers of skilled staff and poor infrastructure compound the problem. Brig. Dr. James Makumbi says, "an HIV devastated force can not guarantee the security of its country and the populace."
To address these issues, the US Department of Defense is providing technical support and capacity building to the Ugandan military, including HIV care and treatment, ARVs and systems strengthening for sustainability. Today, over 5,000 soldiers and family members are enrolled on PEPFAR-supported programs.
Additionally, PEPFAR is funding the renovation of a laboratory and is training health workers in comprehensive HIV care. In the Fourth Division (Gulu), a film van was seen showing educational films in battalions and a Post-Test Club drama group was very active presenting shows that discuss many of the issues around HIV and AIDS, especially stigma and community support.
The overall goal of the DOD-PEPFAR program is to provide sustainable quality HIV-related services to military families and influence high risk HIV attitudes and behaviors. This is achieved by increasing community awareness about HIV prevention, care and treatment services; improving access to HIV counseling and testing; strengthening prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services; strengthening basic and specialized care; improving the diagnosis and management of TB-HIV co-infection; supporting orphans and vulnerable children; strengthening monitoring and evaluation systems; and supporting injection safety initiatives.
With PEPFAR support, a number of significant improvements are already visible. A CD4 machine is installed at Bombo General Military Hospital and reagents supplied. Last year, more than 74,000 were reached with prevention messages and nearly 17,000 were counseled, tested and given results. A local NGO, NAMERU, partnered with PEPFAR to strengthen program monitoring and Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC), another PEPFAR partner, provides ARVs to soldiers and family members and civilian communities around the barracks.
Other achievements include the training of 120 health professionals in various HIV care service areas, including AB promotion, condom distribution, PMTCT, blood and injection safety. An ARV adherence support program was established at the Bombo and Nakasongola barracks with technical support from the University of Connecticut. Nearly 400 pregnant mothers accessed PMTCT services and nearly 900 OVCs accessed services. Approximately 24,000 used care and support services, including 656 TB-HIV patients.
Coordinating PEPFAR-funded activities for the military is Vincent Bagambe, who says "the PEPFAR program has given hope to the foot soldier that originally saw HIV infection as a death sentence. Soldiers are now deployable and feel as useful as their HIV negative counterparts."