According to a study conducted at the Forces Memorial Hospital in Nairobi, another small but significant number of soldiers who participated in the study claimed to enjoy divine protection against the virus.
“About three per cent believed that they were being protected by God during sexual intercourse while others believed they had natural immunity against the disease,” says the study, whose findings have been published in 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 couples. This means the HIV-negative partner is constantly at risk of exposure and strongly advised to use protection.
The study found about 88 per cent used condoms with their regular partners and never strayed 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 divine protection while 1.4 per cent claimed to have natural immunity against the virus.
Titled, Risky Sexual Behaviours among HIV Sero-Discordant Individuals Attending Defence Forces Memorial Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, the study 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.
So, what are the possible implications of the study? Joshua Mosoti Orina, the lead author and a lecturer at the Defence Forces Medical Training School (DFMTS), said these were interesting findings but he was still consulting with the management on the way forward.
The world first learnt some people may have natural immunity against HIV in the 1980s when some female sex workers from Majengo Slums in 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.
Most reported being deployed way from home 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 with non-spouses, with only about 17 per cent doing so.” The authors said most military personnel in discordant relationships used protection while having sex with their spouses.
It emerged that risky sexual behaviour is a concern among military personnel is a global concern.