Theory of ‘Networks’ Suggests That Targeting People With Many Sex Partners is Key to Stopping HIV Transmission, Op-Ed States
The theory of "networks" suggests that the most effective way to fight HIV/AIDS is to "hel[p] the promiscuous few" -- individuals who have many sexual partners and thus potentially lie close to the center of a network of HIV transmission -- Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, a physics professor at the University of Notre Dame and the author of "Linked: The New Science of Networks," writes in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece. Networks are "far from random" and have a structure in which central "hubs" link many smaller elements together, Barabasi states. He notes recent research in which Swedish and American scientists found that human sexual relationships often have the same kind of "hub structure" that is seen in other networks. While "most people have one to 10 sexual partners during their lifetime, a few individuals ... collect thousands" and become the hubs of a sexual network, Barabasi writes. He states that hubs "play a key role" in spreading a virus because they are likely to become infected and pass the infection on to many people. "When there is not enough money to help everybody who needs it, we should primarily give it to the hubs. Indeed, if we identify and help all the individuals who have many potential sexual partners," such as prostitutes, the number of new HIV cases will "drastically decrease," Barabasi says. He acknowledges that treating and identifying hubs may be viewed as "'reward[ing]' promiscuity," but adds that the "real question" should be how to "save the most people." Barabasi concludes, "An effective AIDS policy requires more than money for drugs. We need the resources to quickly identify the hubs, and then we must have the mandate to single them out. ... What the new science of networks is telling us is that any AIDS policy that ignores [hubs] is destined to fail" (Barabasi, Los Angeles Times, 5/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.