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Senate committee to examine HIV transmissions in Africa
Prompted by recent studies suggesting that unsafe medical practices and not heterosexual sex are the cause of most HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will hold a hearing Thursday on the subject. Congressional sources say the hearing could have "major implications" on the focus of proposed funding for international AIDS efforts if enough senators believe contaminated needles and blood products cause most African HIV infections.
The studies, published in the March issue of the International Journal of STD & AIDS, said that despite the consensus among AIDS organizations that heterosexual contact has accounted for 90% of HIV cases in Africa, only one third of the total cases have been transmitted in this manner. The rest are linked with unsafe medical practices, the researchers say. They based their findings on the fact that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa has not followed the same pattern of other sexually transmitted diseases.
"We want to see if these findings hold up in the face of critical analysis," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who called the hearing. "If it is true, we need to start this very day, because this very day adults are being infected with AIDS without their knowledge in a way that could be easily prevented."
Expected to testify during the committee meeting are some of the scientists who wrote the recent studies as well as researchers working in Uganda who say that, at most, unsafe medical procedures cause only 10% of the HIV infections in Africa.