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HEALTH: UN Focuses on Links Between AIDS and Peacekeeping


UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 (IPS) - The UN Security Council, which deals primarily with war and peace, is launching its own battle against one of the world's most devastating diseases: Acquired Immune-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

The 15-member Council Monday unanimously adopted a resolution underlying the importance of halting the spread of HIV/AIDS through UN peacekeepers who have also been found to have contracted the deadly disease.

Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock of Britain told the Council that the resolution, initiated by the United States, focuses on the link between the spread of HIV/AIDS and peacekeeping.

"That is not to denigrate peacekeepers as agents of the virus. But the Council must always recognise that peacekeepers do not operate in isolation from the local community," he added.

Greenstock said the resolution therefore highlights the importance of peacekeepers from all countries being made aware of the risks, both to themselves and to others, of HIV/AIDS.

Although the Security Council does not have the main responsibility in fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic, he pointed out, "all of our delegations must work together in the General Assembly and in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to take concrete steps that will make a difference."

The resolution says that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is being exacerbated by conditions of violence and instability, which "increases the risk of exposure to the disease through large movements of people, widespread uncertainty over conditions and reduced access to medical care."

If unchecked, the Council said, the HIV/AIDS pandemic may pose a risk to stability and security.

The resolution urges member states to introduce "voluntary and confidential testing and counselling" of all military officers and civilians who are deployed in international peacekeeping operations.

Peter Piot, Executive Director of the joint UNAIDS programme, said the Council's emphasis on the "uniformed services" was significant.

During the last several months, he said, the UNAIDS Secretariat has sharpened its own focus on training and prevention measures among uniformed services in several African countries, including Zambia, Uganda and Senegal.

Piot said such training and prevention measures for the military should also be part of every single AIDS programme - even in rich industrial countries. "We agree with the drafters of the resolution that voluntary and confidential HIV testing, accompanied by counselling, has a vital role to play in HIV prevention," he added.

Its benefits include improved health through earlier access to care and treatment; better ability to cope with HIV-related anxiety; and motivation and support to initiate or maintain safer sexual behaviours.

Appealing to the Security Council for more resources, Piot said that to fight the epidemic, Africa alone needs some 3 billion dollars, almost 10 times what is being spent today.

Of particular interest to the Council, Piot pointed out, is the intensified discussions now underway with the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations, focusing on ways to promote "responsible behaviour" among staff providing humanitarian aid, and peacekeeping troops.

Specific follow-up actions include training before and during deployment, as well as the development of a UN medical policy on HIV/AIDS for personnel associated with UN missions, including ensuring adequate supplies of condoms.

Last week, the United Nations said it had purchased over 1.5 million condoms for distribution to UN troops in Sierra Leone and East Timor. The contraceptives, which are intended as protective measures against AIDS, are being rationed out on the basis of one condom per peacekeeper per day.

Of the 1.5 million condoms, about 1 million have been earmarked for UN troops in Sierra Leone and the remaining 500,000 for peacekeepers in East Timor. Currently, the world body has a total of 14 peacekeeping operations based in several trouble spots, including Lebanon, Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Addressing the Council, Ambassador Hazairin Pohan of Indonesia proposed the inclusion of a medical unit in every UN mission, specifically in countries where AIDS is spreading. This unit, he said, should provide regular medical check-ups, on a daily basis if necessary, to peacekeepers and other personnel in the mission.

US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke told reporters last week that "UN peacekeepers, unfortunately, help spread the disease while trying to contain conflict. That was an unacceptable situation," he added.

The United Nations does not have any precise figures as to how many peacekeepers have contracted the disease because it does not screen UN troops for AIDS. But countries that contribute troops to UN missions are expected to ensure the health of their soldiers.

Given its complexity, Holbrooke said, many considered AIDS to be the single most dangerous problem facing the world today, not just in Africa, but throughout the world.

Currently, about 34.3 million people are now living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. The number of new infections is estimated at about 15,000 a day - and rising. The overwhelming majority of people with HIV - some 95 percent of the global total - live in the developing world. To date, about 18.8 million people worldwide have died of AIDS, 3.8 million of them children.

According to UNAIDS, the most recent estimates show that in 1999 alone 5.4 million people were newly infected with HIV, and 4 million of them were in sub-Saharan Africa. (END/IPS/IP/HE/td/da/00)


Copyright © 2000 -Inter Press Service, Publisher. All rights reserved to Inter Press Service. Reproduced with permission.Reproduction of this article (other than one copy for personal reference) must be cleared through the Inter Press Service, IPS-ONLINE, World Desk via Panisperna 207 00184 Rome, Italy. Email IPS visit Inter Press Service.

Information in this article was accurate in July 17, 2000. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.