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A deadly shadow: AIDS in Africa

A deadly shadow: AIDS in Africa

Idrc Reports 16(1): 16-17

ISSN/ISBN: 0315-9981

PMID: 12281102

In Africa, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has spread quietly across the continent. As yet, no one knows how AIDS began. In both the North and the South, most of those studying the virus have joined forces to try to control the epidemic. AIDS affects men and women roughly equal numbers (60 and 40% of cases, respectively) in Africa. Up to 1986, about 90% of the cases in North America have been homosexual and bisexual men, and 10% have been intravenous drug users, recipients of transfusions, sexual contacts of infected bisexual men, and babies of infected mothers. 3 doctors at the University of Manitoba in Canada maintain that the North American picture is likely to change with women increasingly becoming infected. Since 1979, the 3 Canadians have been working with scientists at Kenya's University of Nairobi. Dr. Allan Ronald, who heads the department of medicine at the University of Manitoba, and 2 of his colleagues, Drs. G.W. Hammond and Frank Plummer, reported their findings to the Canadian Medical Association in August 1986. They reported the virus causing AIDS is transmitted in 3 ways. The main route is direct sexual contact, specifically genital to genital intercourse and receptive anal intercourse. A 2nd route is perinatal transmission, from infected mother to newborn. In such cases the transmission risk can be as high as 50%. In Africa, heterosexual intercourse is by far the most common route of infection, with prostitutes considered to be a high-risk group, but the virus has been slow to move into the heterosexual population in North America. Kenya was the 1st country in African to officially acknowledge the presence of AIDS, reporting cases to the World Health Organization (WHO), introducing a national policy aimed at preventing the spread of the disease, and creating an AIDS committee for control and investigation. The Kenya-Canada collaboration began with a study of genital ulcers in conjunction with the microbiology department of the University of Nairobi. It has since expanded to include all sexually transmitted diseases. According to Dr. Ronald, the best information from the international meeting held in Paris in June 1986 led to pessimism, that is, "there is no evidence that, if people become infected but live for a number of years without symptoms, they won't eventually die of the disease." Thus, the focus must be on prevention of the spread of AIDS through the use of condoms or other measures. The doctors from Manitoba also identify a change in sexual habits as another solution.

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