By Ian Graham
Defense Media Activity
The fight against AIDS and HIV is one of the most important health issues worldwide, and the Department of Defense (DoD) is doing its part to prevent the spread of the disease.
Dr. Rick Shaffer, director of the DoD HIV/AIDS Prevention Program (DHAPP), said his organization works with the militaries from some 80 countries worldwide to help them train soldiers and doctors how to handle HIV infections and how to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.
DoD’s program is a portion of the larger President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a program created in 2003 to help nations fight the disease. It’s the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease, ever.
The military primarily provides what Shaffer called “medical security cooperation” and policy development. This includes how to handle an infected soldier (in both medical and everyday situations), how to give HIV and AIDS-related training and counseling, and developing labs, medical capabilities and education programs, he explained.
DHAPP also works with the partner militaries to design HIV prevalence and risk surveys and collect, enter, and analyze the data. This research supports the militaries in determining the level of infection in their respective populations and provides a better picture of their clinical needs.
“The HIV-in-the-military epidemic is very new to many countries,” Shaffer said. “In the U.S., we’ve been working with it for nearly 30 years, but some places haven’t addressed it or felt the need to address it until very recently.”
Shaffer said the long-term goal of his organization is to eliminate future HIV infections and ensure that those who are infected remain a contributing member of the military.
At the upcoming 2010 International Military HIV/AIDS Conference, Shaffer and his colleagues from around the globe will share ideas and best practices in HIV awareness training and policy establishment.
“Militaries need to know they’re not alone in this battle,” he said. “They can feel isolated in their own countries, in some cases even from their own government, so we have to remind them that everybody’s fighting the same fight.”
Though the problem of HIV and AIDS is different in each country, the process of addressing the epidemic is universal, Shaffer said. The U.S. learned the importance of having policy in place long ago, so now they offer assistance and advice to other nations when it comes to analyzing their need and developing policies.
“We don’t suggest other militaries adopt our policies,” he explained. “We just give them the framework, the process to develop their own policy. We show them how they can identify their problem areas, how to solve the problems and help get a program in place with them.”
About the Author: Ian Graham works for the Defense Media Activity’s Emerging Media Directorate.