HIV/AIDS as a Security Issue
By Chinua Akukwe
The terrorist attack on America killed about 5,000 people on September 11, 2001. The international community mourns the loss of thousands of innocent lives from more than 40 nations. A global coalition of nations led by America is fighting back against terrorism.
I am gratified that the Congressional Black Caucus, especially the Foreign Affairs Braintrust committee led by Congressman Donald Payne organized this session on HIV/AIDS even as the resolve to fight terrorism is unwavering and the country is still in mourning. Please, join me in recognizing the long-term commitment to Africa's development by Congressman Donald Payne.
This session is important because everyday, at least 15,000 individuals contract the HIV virus that causes AIDS according to Helen Gayle of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. More than 95% of daily infections are in developing countries and about 13, 000 are in persons aged 15 to 49 years. In Africa, every day about 11,000 individuals contract HIV and nearly 7,000 die of AIDS.
According to the United Nations agency coordinating the response to the HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), an estimated 36 million people are currently living with HIV. At the current rates of HIV infection, more than 100 million people worldwide will be living with HIV/AIDS by 2005. The toll of war in the 20th century stood at 33 million while 22 million people have already lost the battle for life to AIDS in the last twenty years of the 20th century. AIDS now kills ten times more people a year in Africa than war.
The epicenter of this dreaded epidemic is Sub-Saharan Africa. Seven African countries already have prevalence rates of 20 percent or more. By 2010, at least 40 million AIDS orphans will live in Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS may eventually kill one in four adults.
The security implication of unprecedented deaths from AIDS is enormous. According to the World Bank and UNAIDS, by the time infection rates reach 20 percent in a country, gains in health, longevity and infant mortality are wiped out. The projected situation in South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe by the end of the decade readily comes to mind, with expected major reversals in health indicators, life expectancy and infant mortality rates.
AIDS prevalence of 20 percent or more also come with security implications for countries struggling to overcome economic difficulties. At this prevalence rate, according to the International Crisis Group, food supply become tenuous, families struggle to maintain basic household needs and communities strain under economic losses. Young, unemployed people are more likely to adopt fatalist attitudes toward life. Social unrest, crime, and economic refugees surge.
Perhaps, the greatest security threat of HIV/AIDS, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, is that the best and brightest in the heavily infected countries are the first to contract HIV and likely die of AIDS. By 2005, according to Helen Gayle of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and one of our speakers today, AIDS is expected to claim the lives of between 8 and 25 percent of current medical doctors in six countries of southern Africa. The political class in Africa is also under attack from AIDS as top government functionaries and parliamentarians have died of the disease. Top-flight business executives, journalists, and academics have been lost to AIDS.
The International Labor Organization predicts that AIDS death in many African countries would likely reduce the proportion of experienced workforce in critical sectors of the economy. As inexperienced colleagues replace these experienced workers, production costs, already high in Africa, will skyrocket with attendant continuing loss of international competitiveness. The AIDS crisis is already forcing some employers in Africa to train two or more workers for the same job as a safeguard against the real possibility of losing key employees to AIDS.
High rates of AIDS deaths are also likely to fracture the fragile democratic foundations of many African nations as the incidence grows in the powerful armies of African nations. Estimates from the World Bank, UNAIDS and the Economic Commission of Africa put HIV prevalence rates in the Military of African nations from 10 to 50 percent. In many African nations, according to the International Crisis Group, the rate of infection among the Military is as much as five times that of the civilian population. It is highly unlikely that the Military High Command will tolerate the specter of officers dying without access to lifesaving HIV medicines.
As we listen to the speakers, it is important to remember HIV/AIDS affects families, communities, governments, security agencies, and economic institutions. As the economic and social engine rooms of society-young and productive citizens-disappear or become incapacitated, African countries already wobbling from economic and political problems can implode from within.
HIV/AIDS is indeed a development emergency and a security threat to the prosperity of developing nations, especially African countries.
Dr. Chinua Akukwe is a member of the Board of Directors of the Constituency for Africa, Washington, DC and Former Vice Chairman, National Council for International Health (NCIH) now known as the Global Health Council. He made these remarks recently when he served as Moderator of the 2001 Foreign Affairs Braintrust Session on HIV/AIDS in Africa, U.S. Congressional Black Caucus Conference, Washington, DC.