Windhoek — Members of the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) were urged to take precautions to protect themselves from HIV infection, while those who are HIV positive were encouraged to take steps to ensure they live longer and do not pass on the virus to others.
At an early World AIDS Day commemoration held at Luiperdsvallei Military Base, about ten kilometres south of Windhoek, members of the NDF were encouraged to go for voluntary HIV testing and counselling to know their status.
"We know that HIV is real - therefore we should protect ourselves and our families in order to protect the Namibian nation as our mission is to defend this beautiful country," Lempy Lucas, the Deputy Minister of Defence said at the early commemoration of World AIDS Day at the army base.
She remarked that throughout the world, military personnel are known to be among the most susceptible populations to HIV/AIDS, because of the mobile nature of their work. The NDF has identified factors such as deployment away from home, sexually active age groups, peer pressure and alcohol abuse as some contributing factors in the Namibian context.
"Being away from home does not mean being away from HIV. We should therefore know the risk factors and protect ourselves in order to protect the nation," she said.
Lucas said stigma and discrimination is a barrier to positive living. "I am therefore informing you that all forms of discrimination in the Namibian Defence Force will not be allowed," warned Lucas.
"HIV is capable of making a commander panic when there are no soldiers to command," Lucas noted.
The NDF already has 22 members who have publicly disclosed their HIV positive status.
In addition, another four NDF members publicly disclosed their HIV positive status only recently. One of the four, Corporal Jacobina Aipinge, said she found out in 2006 that she was HIV positive when she went for antenatal care.
"If you find yourself in a situation like that it's not the end of the world," Aipinge said. She also urged those who are not infected to take the necessary precautions to remain positive. "To those who are infected, don't spread the virus," Aipinge urged. The United States of America Defence Attaché, Lieutenant Colonel Cheryl Rene Korver, told the gathering that knowing one's status is the first step to prevention. She also commended those who publicly disclosed their HIV positive status for their bravery.
World AIDS Day is observed universally each year on December 01.
In Namibia, the day will be observed under the theme, 'Getting to zero, zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths.'