The independent resource on global security

Flying between ministerial conferences

With the Qantas flights back in the air, world leaders and their entourages were able to make the trip from Perth to Cannes.  The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting took place on 28–30 October in Perth, Australia, with the G20 meeting in Cannes, France the following week (2-4 November).  Only five countries overlap between the two groupAustralia, Canada, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom—and although some have argued the Commonwealth only exists to facilitate cricket matches and tea-drinking, the SIPRI team see the Commonwealth as providing a useful forum for diplomacy, particularly with regard to health and international aid. The decisions taken at both of these meetings have far-reaching affects for countries outside of these groupings.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron called upon the Commonwealth Countries to strengthen their commitment to human rights and, as part of this, threatened to end development aid to countries banning homosexuality.  Making aid conditional on a government’s policies can be criticised as a form of neo-colonialism. However, in this case, Mr Cameron is right to makes a point of a specific kind of human rights abuse which threatens health security: how are homosexuals meant to access condoms and treatment for sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV when simply being homosexual is illegal? In these situations we also see men who are gay, but cannot live openly so, inadvertently infecting their wives with HIV because they cannot access health services as gay men. Finally, these laws can also encourage violence against homosexuals, as seen in the murder of Ugandan gay activist David Kato.

Moving onto Cannes, health and development were never expected to be priorities at the G20 Summit, with the on-going crises in the international financial system already expected to be the focus, even before Greece stole the stage with its Euro referendum. However, Bill Gates had been invited by French president Nicolas Sarkozy to speak. Mr Gates launched a report on development for the G20 leaders, notably calling for a tax on financial transactions and more generally he advocated keeping the intertwined issues of poverty, hunger, climate change and health on the international agenda.  According to the Huffington Post, Mr Gates said that he’ll 'be taking a message to the G20 that we can't turn our backs on the world's poorest, even in these tough economic times'. Mr Gates did that and although the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has plenty of critics, we can thank Mr Gates for getting health onto the G20 agenda at all.

The SIPRI Global Health Security team recently attended an excellent seminar organised by Läkare Utan Gränser (Swedish Medicins Sans Frontieres) on progress in fighting HIV/AIDS. And Mr Gates is right to keep the world’s most vulnerable need on the international agenda.  The seminar highlighted the extraordinary progress made on preventing and treating HIV/AIDS in the past 30 years, as well as the lessons learnt  - and being applied – in making investments in HIV/AIDS extremely good value-for-money for donors, particularly in preventing infections and keeping those already infected on treatment so that they are productive members of society and the economy.

So this week we return to another sort of air-grounding: recent news in Swaziland saw HIV-positive individuals prevented from obtaining a pilot’s licences, even though this is against laws in Swaziland which prohibit the termination of employment based on HIV status.  There is no reason why an individual who tests positive for HIV cannot pilot an aircraft and setting a precedent like this could be economically devastating in a country where up to 40% of the population is HIV-positive.  And it is also the sort of human rights violation that David Cameron intends to address in suggesting tying aid to human rights.