As if Africa is not already devastated enough by the AIDS virus, recent studies have shown that malaria, another disease that has ravaged the continent, interacts with the AIDS virus in a manner that increases the prevalence of both diseases.
In sub-Saharan Africa, presence of malaria in AIDS infected patients has been shown to boost the viral loads of the patients, making them more likely to infect others with the virus. The connection was made when researchers determined that neither risky behavior nor poor AIDS awareness could explain the incredibly high numbers of people in the region infected with the AIDS virus, or for the swiftness with which it was spread.
“Higher viral load causes more HIV transmission, and malaria causes high HIV viral load,” revealed Laith Abu-Raddad of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and the University of Washington, an AIDS researcher who lead a study published in journal Science. Once an HIV infected person gets malaria, Abu-Raddad’s team determined, his or her viral load elevated and stays elevated for six to eight weeks, making the person far more infectious to others. The researchers estimate that malaria has helped HIV infect hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of people in Africa.
The interaction between the two diseases has been responsible for an increase in malaria cases as well. The effects of the AIDS virus in the body make patients more susceptible to immunodeficiency disorders like AIDS and HIV. AIDS and HIV infected people have severely compromised immune systems, leaving them defenseless against exposure to Malaria.
In the Kenyan city of Kisumu, where HIV and malaria are both common, the researchers determined that approximately 5 percent of HIV infected patients acquired the disease as a result of the increased HIV viral load of patients also suffering from malaria. Furthermore, they have determined that about 10 percent of adult malaria cases in the city can be attributed to the decreased immune systems of Kenyan HIV patients.
Over 60% of the world’s AIDS and HIV infected population are located in the countries of the sub-Saharan region of Africa. In the past year, 2.1 million of the 2.9 million AIDS related deaths occurred in this region. Malaria also kills over 1 million people annually, mostly young children, in sub-Saharan Africa.
While the news of the malaria connection to AIDS in Africa may sound discouraging, considering the devastation both diseases have wrought on the continent, the discovery of the interaction between the two diseases could provide the people of sub-Saharan Africa with a means to curb to expansion of both AIDS and malaria in the countries of the region.