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Ivory Coast's Armed Forces Fight Against AIDS


In war divided Ivory Coast, members of the military are particularly at risk of spreading and being infected by HIV/AIDS. The Ivorian Ministry of Defense has launched a new program that will attempt to make soldiers on both sides of the conflict aware of the dangers of the disease.

The American government has made available $5 million over four years to the non-governmental organization Populations Services International. The group is making people aware of the danger of AIDS in Ivory Coast, and how to prevent it.

Part of the American money will be used to reinforce programs and testing to prevent AIDS in Ivory Coast's military.

Ivory Coast has been divided into a government held south and a rebel held north since 2002, when a failed coup escalated into civil war. The Ministry of Defense is in the process of developing plans that will treat rebel soldiers as well as the armed forces.

Dr. Didier Adjoua, who works with the non governmental organization Populations Services International, says that there are plans to rehabilitate hospitals and treatment centers in rebel held territory.

Dr. Adjoua says that people from in the army and rebel forces will be trained to sensitize their peers to the dangers of HIV/ AIDS. He also says that there are plans for new mobile units that will travel from barrack to barrack providing soldiers with information and AIDS tests.

Brian Howard, a researcher with the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Ivory Coast says that military personnel are among the people most at risk from HIV/AIDS.

"Their young they are stationed far from their home, often from months at a time often faraway from their families, they move around a lot," said Mr. Howard. "They are often in situations of power vis a vis the local population which is often economically vulnerable at the time especially women"

Ivory Coast has one of the highest AIDS rates in West Africa. Free HIV testing for government military has already existed for several years. Tests are kept confidential, and military records say that between January to September 2005 over 250,000 people were tested.

But Ivory Coast's fight against AIDS has become more difficult because of the war, because rebel fighters have not had access to the same resources as government soldiers.

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