The Origin of an Epidemic


Scientist believe they have pinpointed the origins of the HIV virus.

1920’s Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is thought to be the birth place of HIV. The transmission from primates to humans, substantial urban growth, strong railway links during Belgian colonial rule, and changes to the sex trade between the 1920’s and the 1950’s; lead the virus was able to spread rapidly across the globe, professors from Oxford University say.

“Data from colonial archives tells us that by the end of 1940’s over one-million people were travelling through Kinshasa on the railways each year. Our genetic data tells us that HIV very quickly spread across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (a country the size of Western Europe), travelling with people along railways and waterways.”


“We think it is likely that the social changes around the independence in 1960 saw the virus ‘break out’ from small groups of infected people to infect the wider population and eventually the world,” said Dr Nuno Faria of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, first author of the paper.

“For the first time we have analysed all the available evidence using the latest phylogeographic techniques, which enable us to statistically estimate where a virus comes from. This means we can say with a high degree of certainty where and when the HIV pandemic originated. It seems a combination of factors in Kinshasa in the early 20th Century created a ‘perfect storm’ for the emergence of HIV, leading to a generalised epidemic with unstoppable momentum that unrolled across sub-Saharan Africa,” explains Professor Oliver Pybus of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology.

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