HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa Should Be Classified as Disaster, Red Cross Report Says
The HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa is so severe that it should be classified as a disaster comparable to famine or floods, according to a report released Thursday by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, AFP/Google.com reports. In its annual report, titled "World Disasters Report 2008," IFRC said there is "no doubt" that HIV/AIDS matches the United Nations' definition of a disaster.
According to AFP/Google.com, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs defines a disaster as a "serious disruption of the functioning of a society, causing widespread human, material or environmental losses which exceed the ability of a society to cope using only its own resources." IFRC said that such a situation exists in sub-Saharan Africa, where about two-thirds of the world's people with HIV live. The report noted that at least one in 10 people is HIV-positive in countries such as Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In addition, the social tension and economic strain related to the disease are felt by everyone in a country and not just those living with the disease.
"Reflecting on the lives of most people living in sub-Saharan Africa raises more alarm than hope," the report said, adding that HIV/AIDS "is directly responsible for restraining and reducing human and resource capacities across societies because HIV infections and AIDS[-related] deaths are common among workers of all qualifications and expertise, and in all industries." The report noted that along with the "high costs of caring for people living with HIV, those capacity constraints lead to withered health and education systems, declining food security, skilled labor shortages and an increasingly ramshakled infrastructure" (AFP/Google.com, 6/25).
IFRC said that ignoring HIV/AIDS as a disaster exposes people to unnecessary risks. According to the report, relief workers should do more to prevent unsafe blood donations, protect women and children from rape and minimize disruptions in HIV treatment. In addition, low-cost measures and better planning should be implemented to minimize the risk of spreading the disease in a disaster zone (AP/International Herald Tribune, 6/26). The report also called on governments and humanitarian agencies to pay more attention to HIV/AIDS in their response to armed conflicts, as well as the growing rate of transmission among vulnerable groups, including injection drug users, commercial sex workers and men who have sex with men (Evans, Reuters, 6/25).
Mukesh Kapila, IFRC's special representative for HIV/AIDS, said, "It's a question of adding HIV as a dimension in planning a response to disasters." He added, "Let's not forget that the HIV disaster takes place invisibly. A few [cases] here, a few hundred there, if you add up the numbers, it's a major disaster for many communities" (AP/International Herald Tribune, 6/26).
The report is available online.