Throughout history, there have been many devastating pandemics and disasters around the globe. While humanity has experienced great mortality through wars and pandemics, few things have inflicted death and raised anxiety to the degree of HIV/AIDS. Beyond the various pandemics and complex conflicts, HIV/AIDS has disrupted and destroyed the lives of many. Ominously, HIV/AIDS continues to cause large numbers of deaths and contributes too much of the misery of plaguing humankind.
HIV/AIDS strikes a devastating blow to the very fabric of the society, and threatens far more than just individuals. It shatters socio-economic and political institutions, families, and the various institutions which guarantee the protection and security of states. The young, who are the productive and innovative forces of every society, are amongst the most vulnerable to it. HIV/AIDS has spread to every continent and it poses a threat to global security and humanity, leading to national and international efforts to contain it. In 2000, Botswana’s President, Festus Mogae, in his address to the ECA said, “The impact of HIV/AIDS on the population, the economy, and the very fabric of our society undermines not only development, but poses a serious threat to our security and life as we know it.”
Every nation, poor or rich, large or small, and regardless of military, technological, or economic strength, has been impacted by the HIV/AIDS threat. Since HIV/AIDS snatches the best of the young people, the productive and protective force of every state faces critical threats. HIV/AIDS is a national threat that causes strategic and humanitarian problems. In the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, HIV/AIDS was included as a global threat that needs collective effort. Goal 3 of the SDGs seeks to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” Part of its focus will necessarily involve ending or controlling HIV/ AIDS and other health problems. Towards that end, world leaders, committed to supporting research and development are increasing health financing and strengthening the capacity of all countries to reduce and manage health risks.
Colin Powell, a former US military leader and Secretary of State, has linked HIV/AIDS to terrorism, particularly for their capacity to kill indiscriminately and without mercy. He further asserted that, “As cruel as any tyrant, the virus will crush the human spirit. It is an insidious and relentless foe, more destructive than any army, any conflict, and any weapon of mass destruction.” In July 2000, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1308, which states that, “the HIV/ AIDS pandemic, if unchecked, may pose a risk to stability and security.” Quickly, the spread of HIV/AIDS has moved from strictly a medical problem to representing a dire threat to a country’s national security and global peace and security.
HIV/AIDS respects no borders. That is the reason the wealthy states show willingness to provide assistance to poor countries for its control and prevention. It is also not the first health issue that has afflicted humanity. Many plagues and epidemics have occurred throughout history, often undermining stability and survivability. These include, most notably, the Black Plague that struck Europe in the 14th century, as well as the flu pandemic of 1918 that caused over 20 million deaths in just one year – almost double the number of deaths in World War I. Ebola, SARS, H1N1, and others have also raised considerable threat and shock, but none has come near the threat of HIV/AIDS.
In addition to the severe economic impact of HIV/AIDS, its spread into various sectors of society threatens key institutions, stability, and security of the state. States with higher HIV/AIDS prevalence not only have their development efforts debilitated (although development level itself also impacts the spread of HIV/AIDS), but also are burdened with huge social welfare costs and stability challenges. Huge sums of money have been consumed toward caring for those infected with the virus, and thus has meant less has been available for investing in other development projects. At the end of 2015, 19 billion dollars was invested by low- and middle-income countries in response to HIV/AIDS.
HIV/AIDS particularly impacts young people. It takes away children and increases the number of orphans (which ultimately increases social welfare costs). The disease is often closely associated with economic factors, and it continues to wreck havoc and undermine development by draining social capital and paralyzing the core institutions of the country. HIV/AIDS is claiming not only human lives, but also the economy and other structures of governance.
Numerous studies have issued unpleasant facts about armed forces and police having higher rates of HIV/AIDS than the general society they serve. Bringing to my mind this information, I pondered for a moment the prevalence of HIV/AIDS within the Eritrean defense or police force, who have served so gallantly. With their commitment and dedication, I ponder the possible threats to them individually, collectively, and as a society as a whole if they were to fall to HIV/AIDS. In this case, to use Colin Powel’s words, HIV/AIDS is “an insidious and relentless foe, more destructive than any army, any conflict, and any weapon of mass destruction.” As a shield and being critical to development, Eritrea’s general population, civil service, police, and defense forces must be proactive in preventing and stabilizing HIV/AIDS in order to accomplish national and personal goals.
It is generally understood that around the world, the military and those working far away from home are often at risk for HIV/AIDS. Recognizing the irreplaceable role of the army to the very stability and continuity of Eritrea, society and relevant institutions must work diligently to equip them with the necessary awareness and protective materials.
Eritrea, located in the conflict ridden Horn of Africa and in a region where HIV/AIDS has wrought so much misery, has made important progress and achieved commendable success in the prevention and stabilization of HIV/AIDS. However, while acknowledging the country’s success, we must never be complacent because HIV/AIDS is not like an invading army that once defeated never turns again. Rather, it requires uninterrupted patrol and surveillance. Protecting citizens from the attack of HIV/ AIDS and protecting sovereignty and territorial integrity are of equal importance. For a country like Eritrea, where human resources are so vital, combating HIV should remain a top national priority. Let us continue to educate ourselves and fight its spread.