Nicole Dalrymple, U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs Office wrote:
The nation of Gabon in Sub-Saharan Africa straddles the equator and is one of the least densely populated countries in Africa. The nation, which is about the size of Colorado, has an estimated population of 1.54 million people, which is smaller than some U.S. cities.
The week after Thanksgiving I had a chance to visit Gabon while supporting a senior leader visit by Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, U.S. Africa Command’s deputy to the commander for civil-military activities. The visit’s main focus was maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea and regional cooperation, but we got an opportunity to visit the Gabonese military’s HIV/AIDS program at Camp Baraka in Libreville.
The HIV prevalence rate in Gabon is estimated at 5.9 percent, with approximately 49,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. In the Gabonese Armed Forces, roughly 5,000 members, the HIV/AIDS prevalence is estimated at 4.3 percent.
We were told by staff at the U.S. Embassy that HIV/AIDS prevalence in Gabon is notably higher among young people and military personnel, which makes programs like Gabon’s Anti-AIDS Military Program (PMLS), established in 2002, very important. PMLS provides training, medical care and support, and outreach and educational activities targeted at vulnerable kids, orphans, widows and the military.
The U.S. Government has been supporting Gabon’s Anti-AIDS Military Program since 2003 through the DoD HIV/AIDS Prevention Program (DHAPP). Support has included funding for the acquisition of laboratory equipment, reagents and supplies related to the diagnosis and treatment of HIV/AIDS. In fiscal year 2011, DHAPP provided $300,000 in funding support to Gabon.
Our visit to Camp Baraka included a ceremony where Ambassador Eric Benjaminson, the U.S. Ambassador to Gabon, joined by Ambassador Holmes, presented a $5,600 donation in equipment for the center. The donation included a refrigerator for medical supplies, printers and a computer.
During his remarks, Ambassador Benjaminson said that the office equipment was meant to assist the Gabonese military’s HIV/AIDS program as it works to create “new, progressive messages to promote HIV/AIDS awareness” and support activities “that will change any stigma or discrimination related to HIV/AIDS among military troops or civilians.”
The program also included a tour of the center and two special presentations. Members of the Gabonese military sang an original song that incorporates anti-HIV/AIDS messages that highlight the importance of knowing your HIV/AIDS status, getting tested, practicing abstinence, being faithful and using condoms. The song was followed by the Camp’s HIV/AIDS drama troupe performing a skit that put HIV/AIDS on trial.
The effects of HIV/AIDS extend beyond health, family and social impacts. The epidemic also threatens a nation’s security by reducing military readiness, limiting deployments, and hindering a military’s ability to support regional response and peacekeeping activities.
Reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS is a priority for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) because of the disease’s destabilizing effects on a nation and the readiness of its military.
Visit us at: http://www.africom.mil