San Antonio —
Foreign leaders from their country’s military and ministry of health met at the 17th Annual Leadership Course in HIV/AIDS Strategic Planning and Policy Development in San Antonio Dec. 4-8 to discuss ways to strengthen HIV prevention around the globe.
“This is a long-standing program that we have been doing for a number of years,” said Dr. Matthew Dolan, director for academic development at the Defense Institute for Medical Operations and co-director of the course. “It really looks at building programs in HIV prevention, measuring their effectiveness and talks about some of the updates in terms of diagnosing and treating diseases associated with HIV like tuberculosis and hepatitis.”
The nation’s attention may be fatigued because of the longevity of the HIV crisis, it is still important to bring people together toward the World Health Organization’s goal of HIV control and elimination, Dolan said.
“There’s still a million people a year dying from HIV,” Dolan said. “It’s been 30 years of this plague, and certainly while the numbers are doing better with the effective therapy that’s available, it’s still a huge burden out there around the world.”
While HIV prevention remains a universal issue, there are HIV issues specific to the military.
“It’s challenging to develop policies within the military specific to HIV,” said Lt. Col. Jessica Cowden, chief of infectious disease programs at the Defense Institute for Medical Operations and director of the course. “Issues of screening people as they come in, routine testing, whether or not you can deploy people and how to take care of people when they’re deployed are essential issues to talk about.”
HIV is a huge health problem throughout the globe, but it can also lead to huge national security issues, Cowden added.
“There’s a lot of concern and data to support that HIV infection because it takes away human and financial resources; it can destabilize governments,” Cowden said. “It can potentially contribute to conflict so there’s also interest from a national security perspective to try and strengthen foreign governments and militaries to better prevent and care for HIV to help strengthen security.”
It is vital to address HIV from both military and civilian standpoints across the globe, Dolan said.
“For a course like this, we’re able to work with both military and civilian governmental leadership,” Dolan said. “So it helps to bring together civilian and military leaders for HIV program management so we can address it from all these different standpoints.”
The most important part of courses like these is creating a unified global approach. “We want integration for unity of effort and interoperability with what we do,” Dolan said. “We need to agree on evidence-based medicine strategies to move on with a unified approach to how we achieve HIV control and elimination.”