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Members of armed forces and groupsare at high risk of contracting and spreading HIV given their age range, mobility and risk-taking attitudes. Additionally, cases of gender-based violence by members of armed forces/groups (mainly towards women and girls) are often being reported as a demonstration of authority/power, contributing further to increased risk exposure to HIV. DDR programmes offer a unique opportunity to reduce new infections, particularly when ex-combatants return to their families and communities of origin. In addition, DDR programmes offer access to voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) and anti-retrovi­ral (ARV) treatment for demobilized personnel and host communities including ARVs to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT).

Children associated with armed forces and groupsare often sexually active at a much earlier age and face increased risk of exposure to HIV. For young girls, the risks of contracting HIV are even greater.

Female combatants, women associated with fighting forces, abductees and dependentsare at higher risk of contracting HIV, given their lack of power to negotiate safe sexual relationships, access contraceptives and sexual and reproductive health services and their higher vulnerability to being raped (See feature box on Women and Gender).

In some conflicts, drugs have been used to induce a fighting spirit in combatants and a belief in their own invincibility. This not only increases risk-taking behaviour (such as unprotected sex) but can directly result in HIV infection as the virus can be transmitted through the sharing of infected needles.

Negative community responses to returning ex-combatants are generally due to fear, misinformation and a misperception about HIV/AIDS. Integrating HIV prevention and treatment into initiatives for ex-combatants and women and young girls associated with armed groups is necessary to meet the immediate health and social needs of these groups, and to serve the interests of the wider community.

Within the framework of the IAWG, UNFPA, UNDP and other partners have been developing guidance, programming on HIV in DDR processes and working with national DDR commissions and national AIDS commissions to ensure HIV mainstreaming in DDR pro­grammes and vice versa. Engaging in HIV prevention efforts at the outset of DDR processes and linking them to national develop­ment strategies offers a unique opportunity to reduce new infections and sustain response.