Role of overlapping sexual partners in the spread of HIV in Africa called into question

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A long-held view among HIV researchers is that overlapping multiple sexual partners (aka concurrency) fuels the spread of HIV in Africa. But the authors of a new paper published in the journal AIDS and Behavior are questioning the strength of the supporting evidence. “This theory, which we accept as fact, is really just the strong conviction of three very vocal people,” says Mark Lurie, PhD, an epidemiologist at Brown University and the paper’s lead author. “There are some studies that support their hypothesis but there are many more that do not.”

So, what’s the big deal? The problem, explains Lurie, is that “lots of people are starting to sink money into interventions designed to impact concurrency rates and we don’t know if we are aiming at the right target.” And to misfire with millions of dollars is no small thing in a poor region that is home to 68 percent of the world’s HIV/AIDS patients.

Lurie says that while concurrent sexual relationships could “theoretically” play a big role in Africa’s HIV problem, he wants more proof, such as studies that accurately measure sexual behavior. Other known drivers of the disease include circumcision, the presence of other STDs, and migration.