AIDS: A Political catastrophe

The UNAIDS December 2006 report says the number of people living with HIV in 2006 was 39.5 million, of which 2.3 million are children under the age of 15 years. The report further estimates 4.3 million people newly infected with HIV in 2006 alone, and that at least 2.9 million people died of AIDS in 2006. The total estimation of 39.5 million people living with HIV projects an increase of 2.6 million infections more than in 2004. These numbers are not just statistics; they represent the growing peril to human survival; and how they consequently affect the way humans pursue life.

What is deeply worrying is the fact that this increase in infection is taking place in spite of promising development in recent years, including increased access to effective treatment and prevention programs to address the AIDS epidemic. But then, it should not be surprising either, because HIV shadows the most vulnerable people, who are poor, exploited, marginalized and with little or no access to basic heath services. Hence, more than three quarters of all people living with HIV|AIDS are in the so called developing world. Invariably HIV|AIDS is more than a health issue. It is foremost a political issue. 

There is no doubt that HIV|AIDS has intensified the political dilemma surrounding human security. New levels of concerns has been provoked because HIV aggravates the very conditions that nurtures its rapid spread, eventually taking a devastating toll on families and communities; putting to risk the social, economic and political stability of any nation. Indeed, to call the HIV epidemic anything less than a political catastrophe represents a serious misunderstanding and erroneous placement of the predicament.

Ironically, the very manner in which HIV|AIDS is defined, determines the outcome of whether or not a society is compassionate and caring to those affected by the virus. This, I should say is at the heart of the human response to this global epidemic. Even 25 years after HIV was first officially declared, the global response against HIV|AIDS is struggling to deal with the consequences of how the virus was first defined. There is a direct link between the initial defining and the rapid spread of HIV worldwide.  

The constructed stereotyping and moral connotation around HIV which was instilled in the minds of the public during the early years of its detection in the Naga context has been most damaging. Today, inspite of intensive awareness campaigns to educate people, these efforts have not succeeded yet in breaking down the walls of stereotype, segregation and stigma, which were conditioned during the early stages of detection among the Nagas. One therefore needs to reflectively question whether these awareness campaigns are having its desired effect; or is it a misplaced priority. 

The question of prevention also needs serious reflection. It is difficult to comprehend how prevention programs can produce desired results in the absence of affective and efficient health care systems and policies. The health care system (or the lack of it) is a decisive missing link in the preventive program and coupled with an increasingly exclusive HIV|AIDS centric campaign, the existing HIV campaign in the Naga context demonstrates the problem of overdependence on external aid resources. This overdependence brings forth the dilemmas surrounding issues of local ownership of the campaign and the crisis which result out of unresolved infrastructures.

The most fundamental need however, is for Nagas to recognize and acknowledge that HIV is a political catastrophe and as such demands a determined political response. A strong political initiative that gives ownership to the people is imperative to bring the fragmented initiatives into a mass movement united in its pursuit to evolve into a holistic response to HIV|AIDS. As people of faith, Nagas are called to create an environment of hope, compassion and care for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS by actively addressing the social, economic and political conditions that promote the transmission of the virus. 

There should not be any confusion in understanding that unless Nagas as a people are able to protect the youths from HIV|AIDS, there would be no future.