Kenya soldiers claim immunity against HIV

By Gatonye Gathura

Some soldiers at the Kenya Defense Forces say they are immune to HIV, reveals a recent study at the Forces Memorial Hospital in Nairobi.

Another small but significant number of soldiers who participated in the study claimed to enjoy Devine protection against the virus.

“About three per cent believed that they were being protected by God during sex while others believed they had natural immunity against the disease,” says the study in the current issue of the East African Medical Journal.

The study involved 384 individuals attending the facility and who are in a relationship where one partner is HIV positive otherwise known as discordant.

This means the HIV negative partner is constantly at risk of exposure and strongly advised to use protection.

On the overall the study found majority of the participants, about 88 per cent to use condoms with their regular partners and never straying even when deployed away from home.

Of the small number not using condoms 13 per cent said they did not find them pleasurable or comfortable, three per cent reported Devine protection while 1.4 per cent claimed to have natural immunity against the virus.

In our efforts to establish possible implications of the study, the Public Affairs Office of the Department of Defence connected us with the lead author Joshua Mosoti Orina.

Orina, a lecturer at the Defence Forces Medical Training School (DFMTS) said these are interesting findings but he was still consulting with the management on the way forward.

The study, ‘Risky Sexual Behaviours among HIV Sero-Discordant Individuals Attending Defense Forces Memorial Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya,’ was a collaboration between researchers from several institutions.

It involved F. M. Kyallo, of Egerton University, J. Mutai, of Kenya Medical Research Institute and Denis Magu of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

The first time the world learnt some people may have a natural immunity against HIV was 1980s when some female sex workers from the Majengo slums of Nairobi were confirmed to resist the virus.

The Majengo group led to the development of what may have been one of the world’s most promising HIV vaccines though it failed to offer sufficient protection and was abandoned around 2004.

Despite this the search for individuals with natural immunity against HIV or what are called ‘killer T cells’ still continues.

In the current forces memorial study most of the participants reported being deployed way from home for periods ranging from three months to two years.

“During the time of deployment away from their families, 257 (82.2 per cent) of the participants did not engage in sex activities with non-spouses with only about 17 per cent doing so.”

The main message coming out of the study, the authors say is that most military personnel in discordant relationships are using protection while having sex with their spouses.

It also emerges that while risky sexual behaving is still a concern among Kenya’s military personnel they are no worse than other such formations across the world.

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