Soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) with support from the U.S Department of Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program (DHAPP), in collaboration with the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International over the weekend launched its first HIV SERO-Prevalence and Behavior Epidemiology Risk Survey (SABERS).
This excise is to determine the HIV prevalence and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) that may exist in the army. The testing is to be conducted at all AFL barracks across the country beginning with the Barclay Training Center (BTC).
Mrs. Mona Sankoh, program manager at the U.S Department of Defense program HIV/AIDS prevention in Monrovia, said for sometime now they have been working on knowing the HIV/AIDS prevalence in the military specifically the AFL.
According to her, the excise should have been carried out since 2014, but due to the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, it was placed on hold.
“What we have actively been working on is the country’s prevalence, but it is about time now that we know the prevalence among the soldiers,” she said.
She said it is important to know your HIV prevalence as active army personnel which will give (AFL) an informed decision on how to go about things.
The program means a lot for the Liberian Army, though the U.S. Department of Defense HIV/AIDS program is not only unique to Liberia, but works in 70 plus countries in the world.
According to her, after Liberia’s 14-year civil crisis, as part of the security sector reform program it was also essential to have an HIV program for the Armed Forces of Liberia.
“One of the strategies that came about apart from the prevention that we have been involved with, is to actually test all AFL personnel; when the results are known it will inform our program in order to know which area that we need to work on more in the military.”
She further clarified that the program is periodic and since this is the first of its kind in the Liberian army to have several Prevalence and Behavior Epidemiology Risk Survey it is called “SABERS 2018,” which according to her, is sustainable depending on the donor’s plans earmarked for Liberia.
However, the entire testing excise, which was officially launched on April 20, is expected to run up to the 4th of June 2018 and is being conducted by professional medical personnel of the Armed Forces of Liberia.
Meanwhile, Stan Ito, a desk officer at the U.S. Department of Defense HIV/AIDS prevention program for Liberia, has said the U.S. Department of Defense believes that it is an important investment in Liberia to keep its people healthy and to keep soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia healthy as well.
Mr. Ito said it is also an effort to maintain their health and to continue to increase their capacity.
“We have been able to invest in their education and training, for them to be able to conduct and practice on their own and to take responsibility of this project so we are proud,” he stated.
He also said the program will help the army to be able to shape their own preventive programs, to prevent HIV/AIDS in the future and recruit that are also coming into the military.
At the same time Maj. Joseph Kowo, the head of the medical command of the AFL, said there are lots of health issues that exist in the Armed Forces of Liberia, and because of this, “we cannot address those health issues if the actual health situation in the barracks is not known.”
According to him, it was due to that they have been working with partners in order to help identify those factors that can be addressed with the soldiers.
He encouraged the men and women of the army to take advantage of the exercise. “One of the major diseases that have been killing people here is hepatitis,” he said.
Kowo however lauded the U.S. Department of Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program and other partners for their continued support to the Liberian army.