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The national and global security implications of HIV/AIDS

While the framing of HIV/AIDS as a national security threat has helped to spark greater political interest in tackling the pandemic, there are also dangers in adopting such a national security approach, say researchers in PLoS Medicine.

Harley Feldbaum and colleagues (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) say that the available evidence does indeed suggest that HIV/AIDS is creating potential risks to national, regional, and global security.

For example, HIV/AIDS is already having a substantial impact upon both armed forces and peacekeeping troops in many parts of the world, and the disease is also undermining the capacity of communities in Southern Africa to cope with food crises. Increases in the rates of HIV in Russia, India, and China—which are declared nuclear states—could have political, economic, and military repercussions.

“Nevertheless, it is also important to recognize that there are a number of potential risks in adopting a national security approach to fight HIV/AIDS,” say Feldbaum and colleagues.

“Countries classifying information on HIV/AIDS in their armed forces as national security secrets,” they say, “hinder the targeting, operation, and evaluation of HIV prevention and treatment programs for both soldiers and civilian populations that interact with them.”

A primary focus on the national security implications of the pandemic could cause an inappropriate redirection of HIV/AIDS resources toward strategically important countries or those supportive of the “War on Terror,” say the authors. Conversely, a security community could conclude that higher rates of HIV/AIDS in certain militaries would actually benefit its own national interests because of a reduced ability by affected countries to launch offensive attacks.

The authors argue that in Russia, India, and China, populations vulnerable to HIV/AIDS are injection drug users, sex workers, and ethnic minorities in separatist areas. Addressing their health needs using a security-based rationale could lead to repression or increased stigmatization of persons living with HIV/AIDS.

Finally, they say, “the security community seeking to win ‘hearts and minds’ through health initiatives clouds the traditionally humanitarian role of public health and could lead to a loss of trust in the motives of public health professionals working on HIV/AIDS, an issue already fraught with sensitivities.”

Andrew Hyde | alfa
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