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HIV/AIDS Threatens Nepal's National Security

HIV/AIDS Threatens National Security


By Kamala Sarup

The growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in Nepal is a national security issue. If the rate of infection increases, HIV/AIDS could possibly threaten the stability of Nepal. Conflict and HIV/AIDS have also undermined the Nepali family structure. Although concern among the Nepali population about the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS is significant, the government continues to give the problem a low priority. The impact of HIV/AIDS in Nepal is no less destructive than that of conflict itself. HIV/AIDS is marching across Nepal with determined speed and causing far-reaching impact.

Despite HIV/AIDS rates doubling every year, government funding has simply not kept pace. With the government doing so little to address this issue, Nepal's HIV/AIDS crises will likely further cripple the country's economy. It is clear enough that HIV/AIDS attacks human security. It has slashed life expectancy, and destroyed families. HIV/AIDS is a threat to the right to life, the right to live and the right to human dignity, and it also affects social structures because of the fear and stigma generated by the disease. It threatens to overwhelm health budgets as the cost of HIV treatment continues to skyrocket.

Conflict, in turn, is identified as a prime source of the spread of the virus because it increases competition for scarce resources. Conflict has now become one of the main obstacles to addressing the menace of HIV/AIDS. Prevention programs have been neglected in Nepal.

HIV/AIDS is growing in severity for a variety of reasons: increased travel, urbanization, changing sexual habits, and conflict. Now we have some questions. Every day, there is a tremendous increase in HIV infection and teenage pregnancy rates, which can be attributed to the quality and extent of sex education the young population currently receive. Does the Deuba government know it is time now to throw away the puritan and conservative approach to sex education and make information and education about sex a central part of the school curriculum?

On June 4, the regional government of Catalonia, in northeastern Spain, decided to install condom vending machines in schools. Their reason for this decision is based on figures that showed a sharp increase in HIV among young mothers. What does the Deuba government think about this attempt towards controlling the HIV's spread among the younger generation? How would Deuba government describe the social responses of fear, denial, stigma and discrimination that accompany this epidemic - especially with in Nepal? Does the government think there is less discrimination now than we saw two decades ago?

From a human security perspective, HIV/AIDS threatens to destroy lives and ultimately undermine the fabric of human society. These are just a few examples of the challenges that Nepal confronts.

HIV/AIDS also undermines national security by degrading civil governance, causing a disruptive loss in the labor force, and posing an enormous burden on government health budgets which impacts Nepal's ability to secure food, shelter, health care, education and all forms of security. As adults fall ill and die, families face declining agricultural productivity. HIV/AIDS directly affects police capability, and community stability more generally. It breaks down national institutions that govern society and provide public confidence that the people's interests are being served. By overwhelming the continent's health and social services, by creating thousands of orphans, AIDS is causing social and economic crises, which in turn threaten political security. In the already unstable Nepali society, this cocktail of disasters is a sure recipe for more conflict. And conflict, in turn, provides fertile ground for further infections.

At the most basic level, HIV issues can be defined as non-military threats and either threaten the political and social integrity of a nation or the health of its inhabitants. Solutions are equally elusive, especially for long-term problems that cannot simply be swept away by a single policy change or introduction of an international law or convention.

Effective strategy to cope with this problem should focus on multi-sectoral approach involving all sectors of the society. The need of the hour is quality sex education, social support, and more importantly, sustainability of political will and HIV/AIDS national policy. Government and NGOs can play an important role in accelerating the process of translating and implementing the political will and commitment.

Moreover, putting HIV/AIDS in the human security context will reaffirm our political will and commitment in addressing the plight of people living with HIV/AIDS and to ensure human security for all. The problem of Nepal's failure could be approached in terms of diagnosis, prevention, intervention and rehabilitation. In terms of diagnosis, data collection and analysis needs to be systematised. Without a change in treatment policy and progress in prevention, HIV/AIDS will become the single largest cause of death in Nepal.

HIV/AIDS infection rates are increasing at an alarming rate for young people in Nepal. People living with HIV in Nepal have no access to family planning services. They also suffer violence in the denial of their sexual and reproductive and economic rights but most NGOs working on HIV/AIDS are not strong in Nepal. There is much duplication of activities. There is no focal point for the development of a policy for the district level HIV/AIDS programs. Due to the lack of good counseling and follow up services, the HIV/AIDS victims are increasing.

The disease attacks economic security today and economic opportunity for the future. It increases the cost of doing business, jeopardizes key industries, and decreases foreign and domestic investment. In Nepal, when one family member becomes infected with HIV/AIDS, the family's income tends to fall. This security weakness also undermines the ability of the national system to end conflicts and prevent them from spreading.

HIV/AIDS also is undermining education and health systems, economic growth, micro enterprises, political legitimacy, family structures, and overall social cohesion.

To provide young people with HIV/AIDS prevention education is crucial. The government has a national program to combat the problem but HIV/AIDS has spread beyond traditionally high-risk groups such as prostitutes, drug users and homosexuals. Unless the HIV challenge is met, the sustainability of these operations, and their invaluable contribution to national security, will be under threat. How can we sustain democracy under these circumstances?

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(This article was published in Kathmandu Post)

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