UN makes progress on AIDS education for thousands of peacekeeping personnel

USG Guéhenno

18 July 2005 – With nearly 80,000 personnel serving in United Nations peacekeeping missions, UN agencies have made strides in educating mission personnel about preventing HIV infection, but troop contributing countries must do their part, senior UN officials said today.

In a random sample of 660 uniformed peacekeepers tested for HIV/AIDS awareness, some 94 per cent knew two of the key ways in which HIV is transmitted – unprotected sex and exposure to infected blood, Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno, head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), told the Security Council in a meeting on HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and counselling, especially in peacekeeping.

"The vast majority, over 87 per cent, of those who had been in mission for at least a month, had received AIDS awareness training," he said.

The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) provided DPKO critical technical and advisory support at headquarters and in the field as peacekeeping activities surged and DPKO personnel from 105 countries reached 66,000 in uniform and more than 13,000 international and national civilian employees in 17 peacekeeping and related field operations, he said.

On the other hand, only a small number of mission personnel had received training from within their battalions or detachments and fewer than 2 per cent had been briefed by their commanding officers, he said.

"The support of the command structure is crucial to any efforts to mainstream AIDS training and I urge troop-contributing countries to ensure that AIDS awareness is considered a command responsibility," Mr. Guéhenno said.

DPKO and UNAIDS were examining ways to maintain training for AIDS peer educators when they returned home and to ensure that they were agents of change both in their missions and at home, he added.

UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot, presenting a progress report called "On the Front Line," said securing political commitment from Ministries of Defence and Interior was critical to working successfully with uniformed services to combat HIV/AIDS.

"A small but nonetheless growing number of defence, military and political leaders now fully understand the need to address AIDS and have begun to make what we hope will be sustained investments. However, we are still too far from the point where responding to AIDS is a part of core military business everywhere," he said.

Going forward, UNAIDS has co-sponsored, with the Council for Foreign Relations, a new report with preliminary evidence of the links between HIV and national security, he said.

In addition, UNAIDS has commissioned work from the London School of Economics and had collaborated with the Government of the Netherlands in developing a research agenda on the linkages between AIDS, security and conflict, Dr. Piot said.

The Council President for July, Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis of Greece, read a statement saying, "The Security Council recognises that UN peacekeeping personnel can be important contributors to the response to HIV/AIDS, particularly for vulnerable communities in post-conflict environments.

"The Council welcomes the action taken by the Secretary General and the UN peacekeeping missions to integrate HIV/AIDS awareness in their mandated activities and outreach projects for vulnerable communities, and urges them to pay particular attention to the gender dimensions of HIV/AIDS."

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