AIDS – Part II

In an ironic twist of fate, the meaning behind the word ‘AIDS’ underwent dramatic changes ever since the identification of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in 1983. While the origin of HIV in humans is believed to have resulted from cross-species transfer of a simian immunodeficiency virus from the chimpanzee in central Africa, there are conspiracy theories abound surrounding the nature of its cause. There have been suggestions that HIV spread to humans from contaminated polio vaccines in Africa; further fuelling notions of Western involvement. Realities nevertheless indicate that changing social mores, urbanization and values have provided conditions necessary for the emergence of HIV as a pandemic. 

Today’s generation is sitting on a virus with catastrophic consequences of global dimensions. Governments, Nations and Peoples are compelled to jointly work to find answers on how to address the virus and its impact on people and society. What makes HIV a threat to human survival is not just the fact that there has been very limited advances towards finding a cure; but importantly, the greater danger is its subtle “modes of transmission.” The modes of transmission clearly indicate that HIV cannot be perceived simply as an issue of health; it poses a more complex set of human issues and questions. 

Six years after HIV was identified, the first Naga HIV patient was officially detected in 1989. Since then HIV has spread rapidly having no regard for human life. The factors leading to the rapid spread of HIV in the Naga context spreads over a wide spectrum of related and unrelated issues.

Over the years there is an increasing role of governments, institutions, non-governmental organizations, religious bodies and communities in the struggle against HIV. The global mobilization for financial, material and human resources in the HIV/AIDS campaign as a ‘peace-time issue’ is unprecedented in human history. 

Here too the Nagas are reminded everyday of HIV/AIDS. We see graffiti on the walls, posters and hoardings along the highways and the scores of HIV related functions, trainings, seminars and workshops that appear in local newspapers. One wonders the extent of its real impact on HIV and the people. 

In recent times the sea of unchanging HIV awareness programs leaves an impression that the HIV/AIDS campaign is stagnated. An awareness program can only do so much. A shift in focus from ‘awareness’ to ‘issues’ emerging out of awareness programs may possibly start unpeeling the many covers surrounding HIV. This increases the potential active participation of communities and people affected by HIV. Modes of HIV transmission reveal that HIV/AIDS campaigns need to move beyond prevention and health. Essentially a lasting and effective campaign against HIV/AIDS needs to be rooted in the broader struggle for human security. Lastly, our ability and will to transcend the ‘politicization’ of HIV/AIDS NGOs will define the course of the campaign against the virus.

For HIV/AIDS to truly become a movement, it needs to be rooted in the people and communities, which means, that the language itself must be inclusive and one that is easily communicable with the people and their realities. Unfortunately this is not the case yet. Rather there is a strong tendency for the present usage of HIV/AIDS language to be very exclusive, mechanical and HIV/AIDS centric, which for a common person with limited knowledge on the subject could be very alienating. People at the helm of the affairs need to read into these realities and recognize that in order to be affective; it must communicate to the hearts of the people.

By HIV/AIDS centric, it further means that there is an overarching emphasis on the HIV/AIDS as a virus; hence  centering on the virus and its consequences on a human being. The situation however demands that the question of HIV/AIDS must be connected to issues of poverty, social injustice, health, development, conflict and militarization, trafficking, family and community systems and governance. Unfortunately, the HIV/AIDS campaign in the Naga context has not sufficiently related HIV/AIDS to these issues; and therefore remains quite obscure within the public domain. 

Subsequently, it fails to truly educate and inform the people, though a barrage of HIV/AIDS messages continues to flood the skyline. To overcome this fundamental cleavage, it is essential that positive people themselves are at the forefront of decision making. It is crucial that they have the democratic space – independent of NGOs and government agencies – to share their experiences and to identity conditions that induced their vulnerability to the virus and provide recommendations to address it. Ironically, in the Naga context, the ‘politicization’ of NGOs has the tendency to disempower voices of positive people. The NGO agenda of survival and control of resources has caused marginalization of positive people. Without the active ownership of positive people, the campaign against HIV/AIDS will find difficulty in transforming itself into an effective peoples movement.   

While there is no doubt that adequate resources are required in the struggle against HIV/AIDS, it is also a matter of empirical truth that if the questions of ownership, allocation and accountability are not addressed, it could have detrimental and counter-productive effect on the campaign. The overwhelming possibility of aid resources artificializing discourse around the contextual social and political dilemma of HIV/AIDS is very real. Hence, while aid resources is a key element in meeting the requirements desired for a meaningful campaign against HIV/AIDS, it is true to say that unless the questions and dilemmas surrounding aid resources and ownership of issues is constructively resolved, it could very well put at risk the integrity and credibility of the AIDS movement in the Naga context, or for that matter, anywhere else.  

This editorial AIDS – Part II is an updated version of an earlier editorial AIDS, which was carried several months ago in The Morung Express.