BENTIU, SOUTH SUDAN— The HIV infection rate among soldiers in the South Sudanese army is nearly twice the national average, the head of the country's AIDS Commission has said, citing recently released data.
Esterina Novello Nyliok, the head of the South Sudan AIDS Commission, said data from 2012 show the HIV rate in the SPLA, the South Sudanese army, stands at five percent, or nearly double the national rate of 2.6 percent.
The commission gathered data for the first time in 2012 about the rate of HIV infection in the armed forces, she said.
Dau Aleer Abit, the commander of the SPLA’s medical corps, said many soldiers do not take steps to prevent HIV transmission, but added that the SPLA is working to increase awareness among soldiers about how HIV is spread.
The number of HIV awareness units will be boosted from 20 to 43, he said. Each unit will be stationed at a base and will be staffed by nine officers, who will be recruited from within the ranks of the army.
The units provide anti-retroviral drugs for HIV-positive soldiers and test for the virus, among other services, but, Abit said, soldiers don't avail themselves of the services of the units on a regular basis, largely because of the stigma and shame associated with being HIV-positive.
"The stigma that somebody is labeled to have HIV, usually makes people shy away" from testing, he said.
Nationally, South Sudan saw a drop in the rate of infection with HIV/AIDS in 2012, from three percent to 2.6 percent, government statistics released in March show.
The country has set itself the goal of having zero new infections and zero AIDS-related deaths by 2017.