Now that the United States has presumably rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his yet-to-be-discovered “weapons of mass destruction,” one has to wonder where the U.S. should next focus its vast resources.
Should we completely concentrate on rebuilding Iraq?
Or should we invade yet another sovereign nation in North Korea and dismantle
its nuclear weapons program and, while we’re at it, go after America’s new enemy, Syria, and remake them in our own image.
Perhaps we could finish what we started in Afghanistan and find Osama bin Laden.
I know what I’d like to see: The replacement of foot soldiers with humanitarian workers battling the AIDS virus on the front lines.
Namely, the African continent.
AIDS has become a scourge on the continent, with an estimated 40 million infected and 25 million dead since its discovery over two decades ago.
While the U.S. has been running around playing the white-clad cowboy to the world’s black-clad cowboys, most of Africa – especially the countries of sub-Saharan Africa – has been quickly succumbing to this crippling disease.
I think it is time to renew our focus on this much-neglected area of the world and try to reverse what has become a health emergency.
Congress recently approved a bill that would provide $15 billion over the next five years for the worldwide fight against AIDS.
This is the same plan that President George W. Bush mentioned in last January’s State of the Union address.
While Bush called for the focus to be on Africa, Rep. Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, was less than specific.
“AIDS is a pandemic that is erasing the gains of human development,” Hyde told the Associated Press.
What that quote fails to tell you is that no other continent has had to face the type of devastation that Africa has faced.
The lower half of the continent is literally wasting away as the virus spreads like wildfire all through the region.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the life expectancy in Botswana has plummeted to 33.9 years and one baby is infected every hour.
Just last year, 35.4 percent of pregnant women were infected with HIV.
Namibia, which borders Botswana and South Africa, has the dubious rank as one of the four most-affected countries in the world.
The other three are also African countries and the list includes Botswana.
More than 20 percent of Namibian adults, aged 15-49, are HIV-positive, according to CDC statistics.
South Africa – which, possibly due to name recognition appears to garner the most attention and support – has the unfortunate distinction of having more HIV-positive residents than any country in the world with an estimated 4.8 million people infected.
In just two years, it is estimated that the country’s population will be 16 percent lower than it would have been in the absence of AIDS.
South Africa’s death rate has become so ungainly that the Johannesburg City Parks agency suggested creating catacomb-style cemeteries from old gold mines last year.
They are also considering burying bodies in mass graves.
Ignoring this tragedy any longer would be tantamount to passive genocide; we may not be to blame for the spread of the disease, but we will be responsible for allowing it to continue unhindered.
But throwing money at it just doesn’t seem enough.
Maybe if we put the same enormous energy into saving the African continent that we do unseating dictators, we could really make a difference.
Mike Gainer can be reached at email@example.com.