HIV/AIDS most common cause of death in Africa— study reveals

Despite the rapid scale-up of Anti-retroviral Therapy (ART) since 2000, Human Immune Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is still the most common cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, data from the Global Burden of Disease has revealed.

The new scientific paper reveals striking variation in HIV prevalence at provincial and district levels.

The study, published in the Nature, and conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), provides precise geographic estimates of HIV prevalence, and numbers of people living with HIV, to identify priority areas for health care support to reduce the burden of HIV.

The research is part of the Local Burden of Disease project at IHME led by Dr Simon I. Hay, Director of Geospatial Science at IHME and Professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the University of Washington, and is the first to map HIV prevalence among adults ages 15-49 comprehensively at a sub-national level for all 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the study is part of a five-year grant that enables IHME researchers and collaborators globally to map a range of health metrics in 5×5 square kilometre units.

The study said, “Since 2015, the World Health Organisation has recommended ART for all people living with HIV, because early treatment enables them to live longer and healthier lives and reduces the potential for transmitting the virus.”

It said despite the rapid scale-up of ART, 34 per cent of people in East and Southern Africa and 60 per cent of people in West and Central Africa living with HIV were not currently on treatment.

“Growing population size and continued high incidence of HIV infection, combined with increased life expectancy among people living with HIV (PLHIV), has led to an increase in PLHIV in sub-Saharan Africa: between 2000 and 2017, the number of people aged 15-49 years living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa increased by three million, even as HIV prevalence declined,” the study said.

Commenting on the study, Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said, “Changing the trajectory of HIV/AIDS in Africa requires that we continue to seek better ways to know the epidemic.”

He said the study would support policymakers and health care providers in locating hotspots of HIV/AIDS at national and sub-national levels, and will help guide smart investment of scarce resources for diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.

 Dr Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, IHME’s lead author and Assistant Professor of Health Metrics Sciences said, “Global funding for HIV/AIDS has declined since 2013, but our research shows the substantial burden that still exists and reveals where geographically targeted interventions might make a big difference. Our goal is to provide robust data that can be used to help prevent future infections and ensure appropriate care for people living with HIV.”  

She said the study found that most countries (36 of 47) had a more than two-fold difference in prevalence between second-level administrative subdivisions (such as districts or departments). In one-fourth of countries, the largest difference was more than five-fold.

“While the country-level analysis shows a clear divide between countries in Southern sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the continent, sub-national-level analysis reveals areas outside Southern sub-Saharan Africa with high HIV prevalence, including parts of Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, and Tanzania where prevalence exceeded 10 percent in 2017,” Dr Dwyer-Lindgren said.

By Times Reporter

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