The global war against AIDS is one of the most critical battles. Every day, thousands of people around the world contract HIV, with rates of infection highest in poor countries in Africa and Asia. In May 2000, the United States declared the global spread of AIDS a national security threat, citing regions where more than 20 percent of adults are infected with HIV and where millions of children will be orphaned by the disease. No society can sustain that kind of devastation, and the danger has only increased in the intervening year and a half. In addition to a human tragedy, the AIDS epidemic represents a direct threat to America’s interests; if it has taught us nothing else, the war in Afghanistan has shown how instability abroad can directly threaten us at home.
The only way to forestall the severe economic, political and human consequences of AIDS is to take swift action against the epidemic. Treatment, prevention and education efforts all need far more resources than they currently receive. The U.N.’s international AIDS package that received considerable attention in August has since fallen by the wayside. It needs to be brought back into the public eye and given full funding by Congress as quickly as possible. The U.S. needs to take leadership in the war against AIDS as it did against terrorism, and it must push to get desparately needed funding to the countries most ravaged by the disease.
By taking a proactive stance against AIDS and by funding preventative measures, the U.S. will ultimately save millions of lives. This is possibly America’s greatest opportunity to provide successful humanitarian aid. But we cannot wait until terrorism has been rooted out of the world to start considering our other priorities. People are dying; time is of the essence.