A study, recently published in the British science magazine, Nature, has developed a new hypothesis concerning the spread of the AIDS virus. Colonisation and development of towns in central Africa in the late 19th century is believed to have played a major role in the spread of the disease.
Questioning what has until now been proved as the date of transmission of the virus from monkey to man, the study indicates that the disease could have, in fact, been passed on to man as early as 1880 and not in 1930 as earlier thought.
The results of the study by the international research team has taken the scientific community by storm. According to Michael Worobey, a researcher from the university of Tucson, Arizona, and his colleagues, the colonisation of central African towns is said to have greatly contributed to the massive spread of the AIDS virus.
The arrival of Belgian colonialists at the end of the 19th century allowed for the assembly of a number of conducive factors which enhanced the development and spread of the disease in the former Zaire (Now, Democratic Republic of Congo). Urbanisation, growth, migration, mingling of populations as well as the inevitable prostitution linked to the development of Kinshasa (formerly known as Léopoldville, founded in 1881), all contributed to the facilitation of indiscriminate sexual practices which helped spread the disease.
AIDS is therefore over a century old, or perhaps even more. The scientific research team made up of Americans, Belgians, French and Congolese nationals, first of all, analyzed the sequences of the two oldest viruses, until now, known to man. The first (DRC60) was extracted from a preserved ganglion from 1960 belonging to a woman from Leopoldville while the second (ZR59) dates from 1959 and came from a man from the same city.
The sharp differences between the two virus samples show the several possible mutations of the virus in the central African region. With time, two viruses with a common ancestry had completely muated into two different viruses.
This proves the existence of the virus’ ancestor at a much earlier date. A date the scientists situate between 1880 and 1924, the same period as the colonisation of the affected geographical areas. The differences in the genetic samples of DRC60 and ZR59 shows that the multiple mutations of the virus in the western parts of central Africa took place long before the pandemic spread of the present day AIDS.
This study throws more light as well as a controversy on the genesis of the acquired immuned deficiency syndrome (AIDS). It confirms central Africa as being the epicenter of the virus. About a hundred years ago, man was contaminated with the virus when he either consumed the meat of an infected monkey or came into contact with the primate’s blood during a hunt.
The disease was first noticed for the first time in 1981 as a simple form of viral infection and in 1983 it became AIDS after two professors Luc Montagnier and Robert Gallo provided further knowledge on the subject matter.
Today, it affects 33 million people the world over and contitues a major public health challenge in Africa, particularly some central and southern African regions.