Vince Crawley's Africa Blog

World AIDS Day, AFRICOM, and some recent HIV reporting in Africa

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on December 4, 2011

Each Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day. I filed a story a few weeks ago from Botswana that highlights the role that military is taking in HIV. The U.S. military has been working with African militaries on HIV programs for more than a decade.

Doctors at a military hospital in Botswana perform an adult-circumcision operation on a member of the Botswana Defence Force on October 25, 2011, as part of a military initiative to reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS infection. (AFRICOM photo by Vince Crawley)

Forbes this weekend published an  op-ed by James K. Glassman, “How to Build on Success Against AIDS in Africa,” that highlights progress in recent years. For example, he recommends leveraging HIV clinics to fight other diseases along with HIV. Glassman writes that U.S. taxpayers have invested $6 billion in  programs to fight AIDS/HIV in Africa, and he notes that reduced AIDS deaths and HIV infection rates are translating to high growth in African economies. In a separate story this weekend,  the Europe print edition of the Economist has the cover story “Africa Rising” that says after decades of stagnation Africa is poised for record economic growth on par with the Asian tigers, though plenty of potential pitfalls remain.

My story below looks at the Botswana Defence Force’s work in HIV. The U.S. military began training African peacekeepers in the late 1990s and soon thereafter become involved in HIV/AIDS programs because of the issues surrounding deploying HIV-positive military members or deploying military members to high-HIV areas.

Recently, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control in Botswana also was awarded a $20 million Harvard study aimed at seeing if focused attention on a combination of programs can reduce new HIV infection rates by 50 percent over two years in targeted communities.

A sign in the entry way of Botswana's land force headquarters emphasizes the military importance of combating HIV/AIDS during a visit by U.S. Africa Command officials in October 2011. (AFRICOM photo by Vince Crawley)

Botswana Defence Force Combats HIV

By Vince Crawley, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs

GABORONE, Botswana, Nov 4, 2011 — With assistance from the U.S. military, the Botswana Defence Force plays a leading role in helping to combat HIV/AIDS infection rates in the southern African country of 2 million people, where more than 20 percent of adults carry the deadly virus. The U.S. military health program supports a much larger U.S. government effort that since 2005 has invested more than $450 million to fight HIV/AIDS in Botswana.

Separately, Botswana is among four African nations awarded a combined $45 million by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to test whether a group of coordinated intensive programs can reduce stubbornly high HIV infection rates. The Botswana portion of the grant, $20 million, will evaluate the cost effectiveness of a unique combination of treatment and awareness programs. The study, by the Harvard School of Public Health, is funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Botswana’s military, numbering approximately 12,000 personnel and focused on preventing wildlife and livestock poaching, has been “very responsive” in raising awareness and providing treatment for HIV, said David Kelapile, the U.S. Defense Department’s HIV coordinator in Botswana, during a late-October visit by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) officials. The Botswana Defence Force, or BDF, recently launched a campaign for medical male circumcision, which, according to studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, reduces risk of HIV infection by 50 to 75 percent among heterosexual males.

Circumcision was once common in Botswana as part of the Bogwera ceremony in which young males reaching puberty underwent (more…)