Eliminating HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa Proves Difficult
We’ve discussed HIV’s impact on the sub-Saharan region of Africa before. Over the years, the disease has infected more than 25 million people, with the number of new infections rising every year. One the biggest obstacles the area faces is a lack of access to condoms. This contraceptive is rarely used among men and women in these countries. Eliminating HIV is no easy task, especially in a region where the prevalence of HIV is 1.5 times higher than Europe and the United States. The UN’s latest efforts to reduce the spread of the disease seems likely to fail.
Eliminating HIV in This Region Isn’t Easy
Organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS have found success in reducing the number of HIV patients in the United States and other similar countries. However, those countries are resource-rich areas, where they have the means and money to educate and distribute HIV protection. Both organizations have tried to implement similar efforts in the sub-Saharan region.
WHO and UNAIDS sought to use treatment as a prevention method. The plan would treat HIV-positive individuals and reduce their ability to infect others. They hoped to diagnose and treat 90 percent of the people within the next three years.
Why Researchers Cast Doubt
Unfortunately, a study by UCLA researchers cast doubt on this plan, seeing it as unfeasible. The researchers used statistical mapping to find people infected with HIV in Lesotho. At least 1 in 4 people have HIV in this South African country. Similar to other South African countries, most people have gone without a diagnosis, nor are they receiving treatment. The scientists discovered that the plan couldn’t address the fact that HIV-positive individuals are widely dispersed within the country. Also, very little of the population lives in urban areas, making it hard to find these people.
“Global health policies for HIV elimination need to be redesigned, and they need to consider settlement patterns and population density,” said Sally Blower, director of UCLA’s Center for Biomedical Modeling. “Our results show that the spatial demographics of populations in predominantly rural countries in sub-Saharan Africa will significantly hinder, and may even prevent, the elimination of HIV.”
“We estimate that almost every settlement in the country has at least one HIV-infected person, and this holds true for even the smallest and most remote settlement,” said Brian Coburn, the study’s other co-author, who was a postdoctoral fellow in Blower’s group. “We also found that approximately 70 percent of HIV-infected adults live in rural settlements.”
With those in need of treatment so widespread, it becomes harder and more expensive to help them. For every rural location, there is an average of two or fewer people per square kilometer who is HIV-positive. The problem is reaching them.
The Importance of Finding a Great Plan
The researchers at UCLA are using their technology to find alternate plans that address these issues. Blower states that in order “To develop effective strategies, we need to figure out — throughout entire countries — where HIV-infected individuals live and which communities are connected to each other.” Hopefully, whatever plan the governments of Africa chooses can curb the epidemic plaguing the continent and eventually help in eliminating HIV.