Night Watch: KATMANDU – The massive and rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in Nepal is a significant threat to national peace and security. Health workers involved in HIV education have complained that due to the Maoist insurgency they are facing a problem to spread the message to the remote villages.
HIV/AIDS and conflict also create double jeopardy for women. Women are the main victims of conflict. When the economy and the social infrastructure are destroyed, and male heads of households are missing, women carry a disproportionate burden as single-parent heads of families. Her efforts to feed her family may put her in a vulnerable situation where she is more likely to be coerced into sex in exchange for money and resources. This situation exposes her to HIV infection.
The situation in Nepal deserved particular attention because the Maoists war had not allowed the country to set up the necessary conditions required to combat HIV/AIDS. The security conditions have directly affected the spread of HIV/AIDS particularly among women and children. Political instability, and political crisis have an undeniable impact upon Nepalese public health.
The collaspe of educational systems associated with conflict further exacerbates problems and has the added effect of curtailing prevention efforts taught in the classroom and pulling children away from their studies, often into a chaotic and predatory environment.
Young women and poor children without social protection are the first to be constrained into sexual transactions and prostitution by the lack of alternatives. In western Nepal, displaced people said the spread of HIV/AIDS has hastened poverty, lack of occupation, and the lack of reproductive health services. In war-affected parts of Nepal too, studies showed that girls and mothers become sex workers to earn a living because of their social and economic vulnerability.
Now we have questions how to assure as a condition of support that disarmament and reintegration programs and reconstruction programs take appropriate consideration of HIV/AIDS? How Nepal government will provide adequate funding within peace operations budgets to incorporate HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and treatment programs for all military forces and combatants?
Investing in the health sector makes good sense for conflict prevention as well as for socio-economic development. On the other hand, media can play a great role in creating awareness among the general public. Education and awareness are the two powerful instruments, which can check the spread of the disease. It should be on the agenda during peace negotiations, which would require including public health officials on negotiating teams or at least among those providing facilitation.
Consideration should be given to offering assistance, as an inducement to stop fighting, to combatants with HIV/AIDS, including treatment for diseases like pneumonia and turberculosis that attack those whose immune systems have been weakened and when they are indicated and can be sustained, anti-retroviral medicines.
For HIV to be addressed in situations of conflict may well require a psychological and political revolution. The invisible will need to become a political priority. The HIV epidemic rages in situations where power is exercised without regard for others, whether that power be economic, social, sexual, psychological or the power of force.
Though this year budgets for humanitarian aid have increased, but funds are disbursed with short-term commitments. Within a complex emergency, with thousands of displaced people who suffer recurrent epidemics of meningitis, malaria and other infectious diseases, they should have assess to the response to HIV/AIDS within the larger context of the humanitarian response.
It is important to consider how the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Nepal contributes to further instability and conflict on the continent and how violent conflict in turn creates conditions favorable to the spread of the virus. Nepal governments still fail to recognize that AIDS is more than a public health issue.
The relationship of the HIV/AIDS pandemic to violent conflict in Nepal must be addressed as to how the explosion of HIV/AIDS may contribute to further instability and conflict on the continent in coming years? And how instability and violence encourage conditions favorable to the spread of the HIV virus?
Kamala Sarup is Editor of the Nepal based Peacejournalism.com
Night Watch Information Service
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