Partnership duration, concurrency, and HIV in sub-Saharan Africa

  • Larry Sawers
  • Alan Isaac
Keywords: concurrency, HIV/AIDS, individual-based modelling, modelling, sub-Saharan Africa


A widely accepted explanation for the exceptionally high HIV prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa is the practice of long-term overlapping heterosexual partnering. This article shows that long-duration concurrent partnering can be protective against HIV transmission rather than promoting it. Monogamous partnering prevents sexual transmission to anyone outside the partnership and, in an initially concordant-seronegative partnership, prevents sexual acquisition of HIV by either partner. Those protections against transmission and acquisition last as long as the partnership persists without new outside partnerships. Correspondingly, these two protective effects characterise polygynous partnerships, whether or not the polygyny is formal or informal, until a partner initiates a new partnership. Stable and exclusive unions of any size protect against HIV transmission, and more durable unions provide a longer protective effect. Survey research provides little information on partnership duration in sub-Saharan Africa and sheds no light on the interaction of duration, concurrency, and HIV. This article shows how assumptions about partnership duration in individual-based sexual-network models affect the contours of simulated HIV epidemics. Longer mean partnership duration slows the pace at which simulated epidemics grow. With plausible assumptions about partnership duration and at levels of concurrency found in the region, simulated HIV epidemics grow slowly or not at all. Those results are consistent with the hypothesis that long-duration partnering is protective against HIV and inconsistent with the hypothesis that long-term concurrency drives the HIV epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa.

Keywords: concurrency, HIV/AIDS, individual-based modelling, modelling, sub-Saharan Africa


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445