9th July 2000
|NEW YORK — The average UN peace keeper,
who arrives battle-ready sporting a blue helmet and carrying side arms,
will soon be equipped with a new weapon of war: condoms.
Fearing the spread of AIDS among peace keepers, the United Nations has purchased over 1.5 million condoms for distribution to promiscuous UN soldiers in Sierra Leone and East Timor.
The condoms, which are intended as protective measures against the deadly disease, are to be rationed out on a fair and equitable basis: one condom per peace keeper per day.
Unlike the UN mine-clearing expert who infected about half a dozen women with AIDS in northern Sri Lanka last month, UN peace keepers are advised to protect themselves — and others — against the fast spreading disease.
US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke says his country "would never again vote for any peacekeeping resolution" that did not recognise the fact that UN troops are both at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS—and of spreading it.
"UN peace keepers, unfortunately, help spread the disease while trying to contain conflict. That was an unacceptable situation," he told reporters last week.
Of the 1.5 million condoms, about one million have been earmarked for UN troops in Sierra Leone and the remaining 500,000 for peace keepers in East Timor.
The UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) has a total military strength of about 13,000 soldiers while the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) consists of about 9,150 military personnel and 1,640 civilian police officers.
Currently, the UN has a total of 14 peacekeeping operations based in several trouble spots worldwide, including Lebanon, Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The US is so concerned about the spread of AIDS that it is sponsoring a resolution before the Security Council next week calling upon the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations to provide on-going training to all peace keepers on issues related to the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Holbrooke says this will be the first ever Security Council draft resolution on a health issue, which also has a direct relationship to UN peacekeeping efforts.
UN Spokesman Farhan Haq admits the UN does not have any precise figures as to how many peace keepers have contracted the disease.
"We don't screen peace keepers for AIDS," he said, adding that the countries that provide troops are expected to ensure the health of their soldiers.
But there have been reports that some of the troop-contributing countries are unwilling to go public with any AIDS cases within their own contingents.
The draft resolution, however, urges member states "to acknowledge" the problem of HIV/AIDS, in particular among uniformed national military forces.
The resolution also calls upon member states "to institute voluntary and confidential counseling and testing for HIV/AIDS for members of uniformed national military forces, especially for troops to be deployed to international peacekeeping missions, because of the proven effects of testing to reduce high-risk behaviours."
Holbrooke vows that "the US would not let go of the AIDS issue", pointing out that US Vice President Al Gore addressed the Security Council on the same issue in January this year.
"That was the first time in history that a health issue was discussed in the Security Council," he noted. Holbrooke also said that he was not making the argument that enough resources had been deployed to fight the disease.
He understood that the resources needed went far beyond the structure of even the world's richest country. "But the US must show leadership."
Given its complexity, many consider AIDS to be the singlemost dangerous problem facing the world today, not just in Africa but throughout the world.
Currently, about 34.3 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. The number of new infections is estimated at about 15,000 a day — and rising. The overwhelming majority of people with HIV— some 95 percent of the global total — live in the developing world.
According to UNAIDS, that proportion is set to grow even further as infection rates continue to rise in countries where poverty, poor health systems and limited resources for prevention and care fuel the spread of the virus.
Last year there were about 2.6 million deaths from HIV/AIDS, a higher global total than in any year since the beginning of the epidemic less than a decade ago.
Editorial/ Opinion Contents
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