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DoD HIV-AIDS Prevention Program Coordinator Recognized as PEPFAR Hero

By Keyra Boise  |

July 19, 2010

Colonel Mbaye Khary Dieng, of the Senegalese armed forces, is one of the many outstanding individuals being recognized for his work to serve those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in its international “Heroes Save Lives: PEPFAR Heroes, Going Above and Beyond” contest. Dieng is the Coordinator for the Senegalese Armed Forces Multi-Sectoral Fight Against HIV/AIDS and his efforts are funded through the U.S. Department of Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program, whose mission is to reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS among uniformed personnel in more than 80 countries.

Dieng has led his military’s HIV/AIDS outreach program in Dakar, Senegal, since 2003. He was only 12 years old when he joined the Senegalese armed forces and considers himself a soldier for life. When Dieng initially accepted his role as Coordinator for the Senegalese Armed Forces Multi-Sectoral Fight Against HIV/AIDS, he knew that he would have a battle on his hands, but armed with compassion and ambition he garnered the support and endorsement of military leadership to successfully implement his outreach program. By engaging all of the camp chiefs and commanders – as well as the general of the armed forces – he ultimately obtained support from enlisted service members to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS within the Senegalese military.

With full military support, Dieng began his personal mission to create a successful outreach program to promote prevention and improve treatment in the battle against HIV/AIDS. He commissioned a behavioral survey and prevalence study between 2005 and 2006, to obtain baseline information for his research. He was pleased to learn that the military had a prevalence rate of 0.70 percent, which is lower than the general population’s rate of 0.74 percent. However, he also found that older married soldiers had the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates among military personnel. Previous efforts focused on outreach to single soldiers between the ages of 18-35. As a result of his findings, Dieng expanded his outreach strategy to provide more services to families and spouses.

Recognizing the important role that the military wife plays (often as the family’s key decision maker), Dieng understood that to be successful he would need to engage both husbands and wives in his efforts. He reached out to the general’s wife, an authority figure in her own right, to assist with getting the military wives on board with his outreach program. Her endorsement encouraged many other military wives to get tested and also persuaded their husbands to take tests as well.

Dieng’s focus on disease prevention and awareness through his outreach efforts, includes activities for leadership advocacy, peer education, voluntary counseling, mobile testing, community distribution of condoms, prevention of mother-to-child transmission education programs and reduction of HIV/AIDS stigma.

His focus is equally placed on aiding the military members already infected with the disease. He has established activities that provide support to infected soldiers and their families, including psychological care, peer associations for HIV/AIDS support, scholarships for orphaned and vulnerable children, free health care and micro-gardens to help with nutrition and to assist in generating income. Dieng exhibits compassion for these individuals in hopes of reducing the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

Every day Dieng sees how HIV/AIDS has affected the lives of the military families that he supports, which has increased his empathy for all those suffering from the disease and also spurred him to extend his outreach efforts to civilians in rural parts of Senegal. Many of the military health systems and structures that Dieng’s efforts have impacted are highly utilized by civilian populations. His work is helping to battle the HIV/AIDS crisis throughout his country as well as providing a renewed sense of hope for the people of Senegal.

To enable his wage in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, DHAPP funds 80 percent of his program. In fact, the funds from DHAPP allow Dieng, who is also a specialist in public health, to work internationally to share best practices in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment outreach programs. He has attended HIV/AIDS prevention action planning in Ouagadougou; trained in HIV/AIDS prevention and education at the African Centre for Advanced Studies in Management, and visited San Antonio, where he trained at the Defense Institute for Medical Operations and attended the International Military Education and Training program.

As a result of his training, Dieng has broadened his HIV/AIDS program to look at the HIV/AIDS problem in greater West Africa. In December 2008, Dieng single-handedly stood up a conference of 25 western and central African nations to meet and discuss their individual HIV/AIDS programs, in hopes of creating an outlet to learn best practices and to share ideas about how to implement effective outreach programs. In June 2009, Dieng established a community network with these countries to continue to communicate and share information about their work to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout Africa. In the future, he hopes that by building similar prevention effort relationships with other countries in West Africa, together they can work towards increasing awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment options.

Dieng maintains hope that one day everyone living with HIV/AIDS will be able to receive the health care that they need, without stigma or discrimination, and that a vaccine will eventually be developed to cure the virus. This hope continues to fuel his commitment to the global fight against HIV/AIDS.