Practice of Having Multiple, Concurrent Partners Fueling Spread of HIV in Southern Africa, Washington Post Reports
An increasing number of studies have shown that the practice of men and women having multiple or concurrent sexual partners is the "most powerful force propelling" the spread of HIV in Southern Africa, the Washington Post reports. This new understanding of the effects of multiple sexual partners might help explain why HIV/AIDS has "devastated Southern Africa while sparing other places," the Post reports. In addition, it "suggests how the region's AIDS programs, which have struggled to prevent new infections even as treatment for the disease has become more widely available, might save far more lives" by "discouraging sexual networks," according to the Post. The "most potentially dangerous relationships" for spreading HIV are simultaneous, regular partners for months or years because people in long term relationships often stop using condoms at some point, according to studies. Another crucial factor fueling the spread of HIV in Southern Africa is low rates of male circumcision (Timberg, Washington Post, 3/2). According to final data from two NIH-funded studies conducted in Uganda and Kenya published in the Feb. 23 issue of the journal Lancet, routine male circumcision could reduce a man's risk of HIV infection through heterosexual sex by 65% (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/28). The findings help explain why in countries in predominantly Muslim North Africa, where circumcision is the norm, HIV prevalence is low. Also in these countries, societies discourage sex outside of marriage. The dual factors of high rates of multiple sex partners and low rates of male circumcision in Southern, as well as Eastern, Africa have led to a "lethal cocktail" that is fueling the epidemic in those regions, Daniel Halperin, a former AIDS prevention adviser in Africa for the U.S. government, said. He added, "There's no place in the world where you have very high HIV and you don't have those two factors" (Washington Post, 3/2).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.