The terror of HIVInstaGuy draws

The terror of HIV

InstaGuy draws our attention to a speech by U.S. Senator Bill Frist in which he warns that HIV “is increasing the possibility of terrorism”. The story is also commented on by SK Bubba at Yes, But…

There are two parts to Frists’ (alleged) claims, and I’ll take them in turn:

1) HIV is causing a massive collapse of the social, economic, and (eventually) political structures in Africa, and that will create a breeding ground for terrorism (my words, not his, but this is clearly Frists’ argument).

This, I think, is irrefutable, and is something we absolutely must pay attention to. If the fact that millions of people are dying isn’t enough to move us to action through sheer human decency, then perhaps the motivation of preventing future terrorism will. (No, I do not have a magic bullet suggestion on how to solve the problem; it’s complicated. But doing nothing, which is essentially what we’ve been doing, is definitely not the answer).

2) HIV could be used as a biological weapon to commit bioterrorism attacks.

Here, the problem is, I’m not sure that this is actually what Frist said, or what he meant. Bubba thinks it is, responding: “he DOES seem to be suggesting, by lumping HIV in with anthrax and smallpox and plague, that HIV could be used as a biological weapon? This IS totally irresponsible. As an M.D., Frist should and does know better. How are the terrorists going to spread this agent — by forcing us all to have unprotected sex with infected martyrs? “

If that’s truly what Frist meant, I’m all with Bubba here. The problem is, the only basis for drawing that conclusion in the original article is this statement: “Frist drew a parallel between the tiny HIV virus and the equally minute biological agents – including anthrax, smallpox and the plague – that terrorists could use as weapons.” Note that this is not a direct quote, so we’re relying on the reporter’s interpretation of what “drawing a parallel” means. I think it’s a bit of an interpretive leap, without any clear quote from Frist, to say that he’s suggesting HIV is going to be used as a weapon in the way Bubba describes.

What I think we can clearly conclude, though, is that he is at least suggesting that there are similarities between the problem of solving the HIV crisis, and the problem of combating bioterrorism. To me, that’s a perfectly sensible argument, although as Bubba points out, Frist may well be drawing that comparison to gain public support for a major funding initiative he’s promoting. But that doesn’t necessarily make it an invalid comparison.