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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 18:17 GMT
Aids warning for Bangladesh army
Soldiers
Peacekeeping is popular with Bangladeshi troops
By the BBC's Waliur Rahman in Dhaka

The Chief of Bangladesh Army, General Harun-ur-Rashid, has asked senior commanders to take precautionary measures for avoiding Aids infection among troops.

General Rashid particularly mentioned soldiers going abroad on UN missions and also returning home from assignments overseas.

He made this highly unusual call in an address at the Armed Forces Medical College in the Dhaka cantonment.

Soldiers on parade
Thousands have been screened for HIV
Bangladesh is one of the largest providers of troops to UN peacekeeping missions.

Bangladeshi soldiers are working in many AIDS-prone areas abroad.

According to health officials, the number of people infected with Aids in Bangladesh is still very low by South Asian standards.

Growing risk

The first case of HIV was detected 12 years ago and official statistics say 188 people are now carrying the HIV virus.

Of them, 19 have developed full-blown Aids and 13 others have already died.

The numbers are not too worrying for health officials, but experts say the country may face a major epidemic.

Soldier
An AIDS-awareness campaign for soldiers
Unsafe sex, mainly with sex-workers, and blood transfusion carried out without proper checks are major sources of concern.

Widespread abuse of intravenous drugs and above all, lack of adequate awareness of the deadly disease also trouble health officials.

According to a survey, about 70% of the blood used in hospitals comes from professional blood donors, many of whom were found to be carrying HIV.

The survey suggests there is a serious lack of information on the disease among the most vulnerable segments of the population.

Now the army chief thinks his troops too are a susceptible group.

He says the risk of acquiring HIV has increased manifold as a large number of military personnel are working in many countries in UN operations.

Information campaign

General Rashid says soldiers working on UN missions leave their families back home, creating an additional risk.

He says this is why the issue needed careful consideration.

Bangladeshi armed forces have so far screened blood samples of some 90,000 soldiers returning from abroad.

Three of them, from the Bangladesh Air Force, were found to be HIV positive.

The military high-command thinks that simple punitive measures or disciplinary action would not be enough to deal with the problem.

Army officials say they are now planning to launch an Aids-awareness programme among military personnel.

See also:

01 Dec 01 | World
WHO optimistic on Aids battle
25 Oct 99 | Health
Bangladesh faces blood risk
28 Feb 00 | South Asia
Bangladesh healthcare crisis
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