Previous UNAIDS Figures Overestimated HIV Prevalence Across Africa, U.N., Independent Researchers Say
April 6, 2006
Recent studies by independent researchers and U.N. officials "raise questions" about whether UNAIDS accurately estimated HIV-prevalence rates in African countries over the last several years, the Washington Post reports. In 2002, the United Nations estimated Zambia to have an HIV-prevalence rate of 21.5%. However, a study done by country officials that same year showed a prevalence rate of 15.6%. In Burundi, UNAIDS estimated a nationwide HIV prevalence rate of 8.3%, but a study done by country officials found a prevalence rate of 5.4%. Previously, UNAIDS estimates often were based on data from young, pregnant women in urban areas with prenatal clinics, the Post reports. More recent studies -- most of which were conducted by ORC Macro, a Calverton, Md.-based research corporation and partially funded by USAID -- examined HIV prevalence in 16 African countries and randomly conducted HIV tests across the countries, the Post reports. Researchers now understand that HIV rates among pregnant women in urban areas tend to be higher than among the general population, according to the Post. The newer studies also often involve two forms of blood testing, which help to avoid false-positive results that also increased previous HIV-prevalence estimates. The new assessments more effectively identify HIV-prevalence disparities between rural and urban populations as well as between men and women, the Post reports. Though research points to a less prevalent epidemic than previously thought in east and west Africa, the disease is "devastating" southern Africa, according to the Post. "What we know now more than ever is southern Africa is the absolute epicenter," said Wilson.
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