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Are British soldiers adequately prepared to make safe sexual health decisions when deployed to areas with high HIV prevalence?

Abstract

Introduction Soldiers deployed to British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK) are at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, compared with when in the firm base, due to the increased prevalence, and use of, female sex workers (FSWs). This not only reduces the combat effectiveness but can also present a global reputational risk. Soldiers receive a sexual health brief on arrival in Kenya, yet evidence shows an increase in sexual health presentations during deployment. This article presents results of an explorative study into the brief’s effectiveness.

Methods A hermeneutic phenomenology approach was used to explore the soldiers’ experiences using a semistructured interview and data interpreted through thematic analysis. Nine participants were interviewed to determine their understanding of the sexual health brief and to evaluate its influence on high-risk behaviours.

Results One-third of soldiers could not remember having received the brief at all. Soldiers’ understanding of risky sexual behaviour was low; all showed some awareness of the risks of unprotected sex with Kenyan FSWs. Evidence was also presented which draws attention to cultural differences within the military and differing approaches to sexual health.

Conclusions This study highlights that soldiers deploying on exercise in BATUK are inadequately prepared to make safe sexual health decisions. This raises the need for further research to understand soldiers’ understanding of high-risk sexual behaviours. This will inform the revised content of the sexual health brief required to improve the sexual health of soldiers and units deployed to BATUK, improve operational effectiveness, improve the reputation of the British Army and reduce the likelihood of sexually transmitted diseases being spread. Further research should also consider factors such as peer pressure and ‘unit culture’, and how this could impact soldiers’ understanding of sexual health, magnifying positive attitudes and mitigating negative ones.

  • sexual medicine
  • genitourinary medicine
  • health policy
  • risk management
  • HIV & AIDS

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