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HIV's spread in
South Africa largely due to migrant workers

HIV's spread in
South Africa largely due to migrant workers

The migration of South African workers played a major part in the spread of AIDS, says a study in the journal AIDS.

For two years, researchers from Brown University, Harvard Medical School, and Imperial College London collected data from 500 men and women in province of KwaZulu/Natal and found that high-risk sexual behavior of migratory workers contributed to the spread of HIV. They found that without migration--and the increases in unsafe sex caused by migration--peak HIV prevalence would be less than 5% for workers and their sexual partners. In contrast, data showed migrant men had 26% HIV prevalence and 21% among their partners.

To earn a living, many male South Africans leave their rural homes to work in urban factories or mining towns, then return to their villages a few times each year.

"Migrant men were four times as likely to have a casual sexual partner than nonmigrant men. So when coupled with an increase in unprotected sex, we found the frequent return of migrant workers to be an important risk factor for HIV," said Mark Lurie, an assistant professor in the Department of Community Health at Brown, in a statement. "Now we know that migration is at least one critical driver. While this knowledge comes too late to stop the epidemic in South Africa, it provides a warning for countries elsewhere in Africa and Asia. In other highly mobile places, HIV prevention programs need to address increased risk behavior and do so early, when these efforts can make a difference."

South Africa has one of the world's highest rates of HIV infection. UNAIDS estimates 5.5 million South Africans were living with HIV in 2005, and roughly 1,000 AIDS deaths occur in South Africa every day. (The Advocate)

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