Military personnel in Nigeria are getting free HIV/AIDS treatment under an initiative funded by the U.S. government. Authorities are hoping service personnel will now be encouraged to take voluntary HIV tests.
The Defense Headquarters Medical Center in Abuja provides cost-free HIV testing, anti-retroviral treatment and related services.
More than 400 service personnel have been put on anti-retroviral therapy under the United States President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, a five-year, $15 billion-global initiative to combat the HIV/AIDs epidemic.
The head of the Nigerian military medical facility, Captain Chris Ugwuadu, briefed the visiting U.S European Command Deputy Commander, General William Ward, on the changes that have occurred as a result of the joint effort.
"The DoD [U.S. Department of Defense] program has enabled us acquire new structures, has provided us with a fairly good number of laboratory equipment and other equipment that have made it easier for us to do our jobs and to render service to our clients," he said.
"The laboratory we run has been upgraded by the program and we are able to do our chemistry, we are able to do our CD-4 count. And we are able to have other backups to support the use of anti-retroviral drugs."
Six other centers across Nigeria have been opened for military personnel in need of HIV/AIDS treatment and there are plans to open three more by March 2007.
The U.S. government has provided $10 million this year in support of the Defense Department's HIV program in Nigeria and more funding is earmarked for 2007.
Although data on the HIV prevalence rate in the Nigerian military is not available, health experts say individuals in the armed forces are vulnerable to many high-risk factors.
The Nigerian government is hoping the availability of treatment will encourage servicemen to submit themselves for voluntary HIV testing. Until now, soldiers testing positive for HIV were discharged from service.
General Ward says the U.S. military hopes to deepen its relationship with the Nigerian military in dealing with conflicts and threats to security in the region.
"The military of the United States of America and the military of the Republic of Nigeria will continue to work together in cooperative ways to cause each of us to be better at what we do, in so doing hoping to create the peace, security and stability that we all look for in this part of Africa," he said.
"I thank you for the role that you played in these efforts in the past, as partners with us and we look forward to enhancing that partnership through very good, cooperative programs in the days ahead," he added.
The United States has significantly increased assistance to the Nigerian military since the return to democracy in 1999.
Nigeria, with more than 100,000 troops, has substantially fulfilled its role as a regional power by leading peace keeping campaigns in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Sudan's Darfur.