AIDS Epidemic May Induce War in Developing World, Experts Say
AIDS is "poised to lead poorer countries into a spiral of economic ruin that could result in rebellions and violent conflict," according to a group of "leading researchers and intelligence experts" who convened at an Institute for Peace forum on Tuesday, Reuters Health reports. The growing epidemic is likely to "undermine economies and governmental revenues" and "drastically increase class polarization" as poor people without AIDS drug access die from the disease. The experts said that the "potential cascade of ethnic tension and weakening governments," combined with "a proliferation of light weapons left over from recent wars in many countries," will lead to a "dangerous mix that could plunge vulnerable nations into internal war." National Intelligence Council officer David Gordon, who helped put global infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS on the U.S. national security agenda, noted that the disease may reduce the gross domestic products of sub-Saharan African nations by 20% by 2020, and will "exacerbate all of the conditions that have made Africa extraordinarily vulnerable to violent conflict." He also pointed out that AIDS will have a "huge impact" on state institutions as physicians, lawyers and civil servants become infected or leave the country to escape the disease. And while experts predict that AIDS could incite instability in the region, soldiers returning from combat to rural villages in Rwanda and the Republic of Congo may also increase the spread of disease as they forgo the use of condoms in an effort to have children to replenish the population, the WHO and American Red Cross note. South Africa and Zimbabwe are two examples of nations hardest hit by AIDS and experiencing "rising internal tensions" as a result, and India is predicted to face a "truly critical situation" as well, Thomas Homer-Dixon, director of the Peace and Conflicts Study Program at the University of Toronto, said. He added, "Disease is not going to lead directly to violence, it is going to have indirect effects. Disease will have a tremendous capacity to weaken the state" (Zwillich, Reuters Health, 5/9).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.