HIV/AIDS experts and senior army officers from partner states of the East African Community (EAC), have agreed to an obligatory HIV testing for all new recruits in regional forces.
The recommendation was made Wednesday at the closure of a three-day EAC workshop on mainstreaming HIV/AIDS prevention at Serena Kigali Hotel.
“We have adopted a common ground that there is justification to do screening at the point of entry (into the army),” said Brig Gen Dr Christopher Arrum, Chief of Medical Services in Kenya’s Defence Ministry.
The participants, who included international development partners and NGO’s, also adopted a proposal calling for uniform provision of treatment, care and support to regional forces without discrimination.
They also called for retention of personnel who acquire HIV during their time in service.
Dr Charles Murego, the Director of Medical Services in the Ministry of Defence, said that the proposal of screening armed forces is in line with EAC’s ultimate objective of achieving a political federation in future for all partner states.
However, the recommendation drew some resistance from representatives of UNAIDS and the International Labour Organization (ILO) who argued that it wouldn’t be proper to discriminate the recruits.
The delegates also agreed on a practice where an army commander should be aware of the status of his soldiers before deploying them for work.
This, the participants argued, would enable the commander assign infected officers duties that are within their ability and avoid having them take on high mobility missions.
In her closing remarks, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, called for more special attention in protecting the lives of the armed forces.
“For instance in Rwanda today, it’s not possible to get people who can yearn for treatment and fail getting it. Prevention costs a lot but it’s saving, and we need to work together and make prevention more effective,” she said.