Rewriting the narrative of the epidemiology of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa

  • S Baral
  • N Phaswana-Mafuya
Keywords: HIV, Africa, men who have sex with men, female sex workers, injecting drug use, epidemiology


The fight against HIV remains complicated with contracting donor resources and high burden of HIV among reproductive age adults still often limiting independent economic development. In the widespread HIV epidemics of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), it is proposed that key populations with specific HIV acquisition and transmission risk factors, such as men who have sex with men (MSM), female sex workers (FSW), and people who use drugs (PUD), are less relevant because HIV transmission is sustained in the general population with average HIV acquisition and transmission risks. However, the understanding that key populations are less relevant in the epidemics of Africa is based on the surveillance system from which these populations are mostly excluded. Outside of SSA, the epidemics of HIV are generally concentrated in the same populations that are excluded from the primary HIV surveillance systems in SSA. The manuscripts included in this special issue present convincing data that FSW, MSM, and PUD carry disproportionate burdens of HIV wherever studied in SSA, are underrepresented in HIV programs and research, and require specific HIV prevention services. These manuscripts collectively suggest that the only effective path forward is one that transcends denial and stigma and focuses on systematically collecting data on all populations at risk for HIV. In addition, there is a need to move to a third generation of HIV surveillance as the current one inadvertently devalues HIV surveillance among key populations in the context of widespread HIV epidemics. Overall, the data reviewed here demonstrate that the dynamics of HIV in Africa are complex and achieving an AIDS-free generation necessitates acceptance of that complexity in all HIV surveillance, research, and prevention, treatment, and care programs.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1813-4424
print ISSN: 1729-0376