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HIV, AIDS conference stresses total preventative package

MAPUTO, Mozambique -- Military and civilian delegates and subject matter experts from 77 nations gathered for the 2012 International Military HIV/AIDS Conference in Maputo, Mozambique, May 7- 10, to share best practices in HIV prevention, care and treatment.. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson/Released)

MAPUTO, Mozambique -- Military and civilian delegates and subject matter experts from 77 nations gathered for the 2012 International Military HIV/AIDS Conference in Maputo, Mozambique, May 7- 10, to share best practices in HIV prevention, care and treatment.. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson/Released)

MAPUTO, Mozambique -- Throughout the 2012 International Military HIV/AIDS Conference, occurring May 7-10, representatives from 77 nations have been learning new ways to re-energize their HIV/AIDS prevention programs.

"It's really re-energizing prevention programs across the board - HIV prevention, care and treatment," Michael Grillo, Department of Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program prevention education and training director. "What we are doing is trying to put life back into these programs using the new corrected guidelines."

Using prevention, care and treatment as a total preventative package is a concept that was emphasized throughout the conference.

"One thing I think I'll be able to take back after this is to see how we can incorporate all the aspects of health care delivery in our HIV management programs and improving on our HIV management strategy," said Maj. Gen. Tahir Oshe Umar, Nigerian ministry of defense chairman of the HIV committee.

The first step in the preventative process is educating people about HIV disease and how it is transmitted, according to Grillo. The next step is promoting the use of prophylactics to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV during sexual intercourse.

"We talk about safer sex and how to protect one's self -- such as using condoms consistently and correctly all the time," said Grillo.

Each military member should not only know their own status, but that of their partner, he added. After testing, service members will know if they are at risk for HIV and if the test is positive, begin treatment immediately which will also aid the prevention process.

"There are many preventative measures that we are going to institute back home that we have learned here. We, for example, learned more about treatment as a preventative measure and not merely as care treatment," Brig. Gen. Christopher Arrumm, Kenya defense forces chief of medical services.

Grillo stressed the importance of the role treatment can play in prevention.

"Treatment as prevention is huge. We know that there is a 92-96 percent reduction by putting your partner on treatment," he said. "So if you are in a relationship [and you are at high risk of transmitting HIV] we should start you immediately on therapy. It will protect you and it will protect your partner from acquiring HIV disease."

Another important form of HIV prevention is male circumcision.

"If the female is positive and the male is negative we can refer him to male circumcision services; that could help reduce his chances of being infected by 60 percent alone," Grillo said.

A final key component prevention is to reduce the rate of mother-to-child transitions to zero percent, so there are no new infections or babies being born with HIV.

All of these prevention tools are especially important to be implemented by militaries because it enables a nation to keep a strong and healthy defense force.

"We from South Sudan have just achieved our independence and our war now is against HIV/AIDS, so I believe by coming to this conference we are going to learn a lot of strategies on how we can combat HIV/AIDS in our country," said Lt. Col. John Elinana, South Sudan program manager of HIV/AIDS secretariat.

The importance of a war on HIV/AIDS is a sentiment echoed by the DHAPP staff.

"We want to deploy a healthy force. Weather someone is HIV positive or negative doesn't matter, but if they're healthy does matter," Grillo said. "Knowing how to protect themselves and protect others is extremely important for our militaries to stay healthy and to be the fighting force that they need to be, it's imperative that our militaries remain healthy, test for HIV frequently, and be on medications as appropriate."