21:03 | 25th May 2019

News: World

Fri 3 Oct, 2014
By Robert Ingham

By 1960, the rate of new pandemic HIV infections outpaced the growth of the regional population

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Origin of HIV Discovered by Scientists

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HIV pandemic originated in Kinshasa in the 1920s, say scientists. Thriving city with multiple transport links and influx of male labourers made it perfect incubator for pandemic strain of HIV.

A “perfect storm” of urban change that began in 1920s Kinshasa led to the catastrophic spread of HIV across Africa and into the wider world, according to scientists who used genetic sequencing and historical records to trace the origins of the pandemic.

Though the virus probably crossed from chimpanzees to humans in southern Cameroon years earlier, HIV remained a regional infection until it entered the capital of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

From the 1920s until 1960, the pandemic HIV strain – there were others that fizzled out – spread from Kinshasa, crossed borders to other nations, and ultimately landed on distant continents. It has infected nearly 75 million people worldwide to date.

When the virus arrived, Kinshasa was bustling. It was the largest and fastest growing city in the region with transport links reaching up and down the country. The busy Congo river curved north and east to Kisangani more than 600 miles away. The railway carried scores of workers southeast to Katanga, a mining province reliant on immigrant labour, and on to Lubumbashi more than 900 miles away.

Records show that by the 1940s, more than a million people a year passed through Kinshasa on the railways alone. By 1960, the rate of new pandemic HIV infections outpaced the growth of the regional population, according to research published in Science.

While boats and trains spread the virus far, other factors played their part. Records suggest Kinshasa had a relatively high proportion of men and a consequent demand for sex workers. Some doctors may have unwittingly spread the virus further, through unsterilised jabs at sexual health clinics.

Source: The Guardian

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