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The Relationship between AIDS and HIV

June 7, 2000

AIDS in Africa

One vocal skeptic of the role of HIV in AIDS argues that, in Africa, AIDS is nothing more than a new name for old diseases (Duesberg, 1991). It is true that the diseases that have come to be associated with AIDS in Africa--wasting, diarrheal diseases and TB--have long been severe burdens there. However, high rates of mortality from these diseases, formerly confined to the elderly and malnourished, are now common among HIV-infected young and middle-aged people (Essex, 1994). In a recent study of more than 9,000 individuals in rural Uganda, people testing positive for HIV antibodies were 60 times as likely to die during the subsequent two-year observation period as were otherwise similar persons who tested negative (Mulder et al., 1994b). Large differences in mortality were also seen between HIV-seropositive and HIV-seronegative individuals in another large Ugandan cohort (Sewankambo et al., 1994).

Elsewhere in Africa findings are similar. One study of 1,400 Rwandan women tested for HIV during pregnancy found that HIV infected women were 20 times more likely to die in the two years following pregnancy than their HIV-negative counterparts (Lindan et al., 1992). In another study in Rwanda, 215 HIV-seropositive women and 216 HIV-seronegative women were followed prospectively for up to four years, during which time 21 women developed AIDS (WHO definition), all of them in the HIV-seropositive group. The mortality rate among the HIV-seropositive women was nine times higher than seen among the HIV-seronegative women (Leroy et al., 1995)

In Zaire, investigators found that families in which the mother was HIV-1 seropositive experienced a five- to 10-fold higher maternal, paternal and early childhood mortality rate than families in which the mother was HIV-seronegative (Ryder et al., 1994b). In another study in Zaire, infants with HIV infection were shown to have an 11-fold increased risk of death from diarrhea compared with uninfected children (Thea et al., 1993). In patients with pulmonary tuberculosis in Cote d'Ivoire, HIV-seropositive individuals were 17 times more likely to die than HIV-seronegative individuals (Ackah et al., 1995).

The extraordinary death rates among HIV-infected individuals confirm that the virus is an important cause of premature mortality in Africa (Dondero and Curran, 1994).

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