Explaining HIV prevalence in South Africa

This is an important point:

South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma was facing fresh speculation over his private life last night after reports that his second wife had an affair with her bodyguard.

As Elizabeth Pisani explains here, what really matters for the spread of HIV is not how much people are shagging around. If it\’s sequential, the spread of HIV will be very different from if it is concurrent.

Want a hyper-epidemic? All you need is a tradition of polygamy AND high levels of female autonomy. Big Men have their little network of wives and/or lovers. Women buy in to duty sex for the status and security, but get to run their own little networks on the side, for the fun of it. That has been the pattern in South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and a number of other countries where more than one adult in seven has HIV.

No, I\’m not saying that either Jacob Zuma or his wife (or even one of them) is HIV positive. Rather, that this is an example of the sexual (or perhaps cultural but most certainly not racial) behaviour which helps to explain why the epidemic there is so different from the epidemic elsewhere in the world.

Widespread concurrent sexual networks. HIV spreads fastest when the viral load is highest, in that first month or so after the original infection. Once it enters one of those networks then it will spread fiercely.

3 thoughts on “Explaining HIV prevalence in South Africa”

  1. “most certainly not racial”

    Do you have any evidence to support this, or are you just in fear of the PC police?

  2. Ah, but didn’t you know that observing on the implications of cultural practices is now evidence of racism these days?

    So, all together now….


  3. fred

    No cultural is the correct term and there is no racial element to this. I happen to know many black South Africans who find Zuma’s behaviour very offensive both morally and in terms of its effect on the country’s standing overseas.

    Interestingly most don’t find polygamy per se offensive – just a little old fashioned – infidelity, however is a big no-no.

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