A dangerous age

2019-03-07 12:11:10

By Laura Spinney TEENAGE women and girls in Africa are up to six times as likely to be infected with HIV as males of the same age. Findings presented at this month’s World AIDS Conference in Lusaka, Zambia, suggest that the AIDS epidemic in Central and East Africa is being driven by older men infecting young girls, who then pass the virus on to their children. In the worst-affected regions, up to half of all pregnant women are now infected with HIV—twice the incidence in the general population. But rates vary dramatically across the continent. In parts of West Africa, the rate of infection among pregnant women is just one-third of this. An international team backed by the WHO and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has finished a study of four African towns. In Kisumu in Kenya and Ndola in Zambia around 30 per cent of women and 20 per cent of men were infected. In Cotonou in Benin, and Yaoundé in Cameroon, just eight per cent of men and four per cent of women were HIV-positive. Condom use was low in all four towns and the highest turnover in sexual partners was recorded in Yaoundé, rather than the towns with a higher incidence of HIV infection. What separated Kisumu and Ndola from the other towns, however, were striking variations in rates of HIV infection by age and sex. The largest male-female discrepancy was among 15 to 19-year-olds, where up to 23 per cent of women were infected, and only four per cent of the men. The biggest risk factor for teenage girls was having had sex with men aged 35 and over, 40 per cent of whom carry HIV. Significantly,