– News – AIDS, history of an ancient virus in the DRC

Hidden in African forests, the AIDS virus has changed thirteen times from apes to humans. But it is Kinshasa at the beginning of the twentieth century, making it the pandemic we know.

The history of AIDS, which claimed 36 million lives in these four decades, does not begin in 1981, when the first five cases were officially discovered in Los Angeles (the disease has no name yet, doctors simply note that this young homosexual men, drug users, all have unusually severe pneumonia) but at least a century ago, in the forests of Central Africa. Meanwhile, an "invisible epidemic" has spread.

The zero point of this epidemic is probably in the jungle of the Lobéké region, in the far southeast of Cameroon. . This is where the scientists determined the original location of the first infection between the monkey – a chimpanzee – and the male, probably as a result of the hunt and consumption of this chimpanzee meat, but sometimes also a simple injury. We are then around 1900. About 20 years later a Bantu trader infected by this virus travels about 700 km of river, from Cameroon to what is now called Leopoldville, now Kinshasa. , capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here begins the pandemic that will infect 75 million people in the world.

From ape to man

According to Belgian, French and British scientists who have studied the path of the virus, thanks to genetic data in 2014, it benefited from a short "window of opportunity". Because research has shown that on 13 occasions a monkey immunodeficiency virus jumped monkeys, chimpanzees or gorillas into humans. But only one, known as HIV of the M group (for major) has spread far to cause an epidemic, which is currently known. The other groups O, N, P remained largely confined to Cameroon and the neighboring countries.

So what gave the advantage to the virus M? To make it clear, we have to go back to Kinshasa in the 1920s and 1950s. In full urbanization and industrial and commercial boom it welcomes thousands of migrants from the countryside. And prostitutes, the & # 39; free women & # 39 ;. The development of the railway, which arrived in Leopoldville in 1898, plays a key role in the development of the city and the disease. Kinshasa, at railway level, one of the best served cities in Central Africa, had to play the role of hub in the epidemic.

Most trips are then made by train within the Congo. The railway network – now in decline – was used by 300,000 people per year in 1922, and by more than one million travelers in 1948. Scientists were able to establish through their genetic analyzes that the group M virus first reached the three largest populated cities that connected with Kinshasa: Brazzaville, Lubumbashi (in 1937) and Mbuji-Mayi (in 1939). Lubumbashi was a mining town and the second largest in Congo, Mbuji-Mayi the largest producer of industrial diamonds on earth.

The role of decolonization

Mbuji-Mayi, Lubumbashi and Kisangani (a little later) have served as secondary focal points in these areas with good communication networks with countries in South and East Africa. The virus has also spread through the river transport. And perhaps also transferred via syringes that are badly disinfected, used by colonial medicine …

From the 60's onwards, the transmission rate of the M virus group in Kinshasa is significantly higher than the group 0, including the other variants of the AIDS virus. Researchers assume that this "acceleration" is due to changes in society after independence. In particular, changes in social attitudes and sex workers – leading to more customers – have allowed the epidemic to break through and spread the virus from small groups of HIV-positive people to infect larger populations. 19659003] And then, in the 1960s, thousands of young Haitian colleagues in the Democratic Republic of Congo arrived to replace the colonial officials who were fired by the new power before they were infected in their country. Scientists believe that HIV went through Haiti before they reached America and Europe. Researchers in 2014 showed that a subtype of group M, which appeared in Kinshasa in 1944, is responsible for most infections in Europe and the United States. It is in Haiti, a place of sex tourism, that many Western homosexuals, who were there in the seventies, were infected. In addition, the United States imported thousands of liters of blood from Haitian donors every month. Contaminated blood …

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