Independant On-line, What future awaits HIV-positive soldiers? 18 August 2004

Jeremy Michaels

Almost a quarter of the 75 000-strong South African National Defence Force is HIV-positive, according to official statistics.

Twenty-three percent of soldiers were infected with HIV and this figure would grow if the SANDF did not take steps to "get rid" of them, according to General Pieter Oelofse, the director of medicine in the SANDF's military health service.

However, Oelofse says hearing loss and obesity pose a more serious threat to the combat-readiness of the SANDF, while other health hazards, such as hypertension, dental problems and hepatitis B, rank as other dangers after HIV.

HIV is the third most prevalent health problem among soldiers, after hearing loss and obesity.

Oelofse told the portfolio committee on defence on Tuesday that 17 percent of soldiers tested positive for HIV in preparation for operation Blue Crane, a training exercise involving several Southern African nations, in April 1999.

A similar percentage of soldiers had tested positive during routine health assessments in March 2000, and based on an infection rate of 1,2 percent, the figures were extrapolated to reach an estimate of 23 percent, said Oelofse.

Aids-related deaths in the SANDF were put at 2,5 percent in the official mortality statistics, but many patients did not want their status revealed, he said.

This article was originally published on page 2 of The Star on August 18, 2004




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