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AIDS spread tied to economy

FEWER Zimbabweans are getting infected with AIDS, and researchers speculate it's due in part to a battered economy that's leaving men short of money to be sugar daddies and keep mistresses.

Presenting a study of the infection rate among pregnant women at a major international AIDS conference in South Africa this week, Dr Michael Silverman said the prevalence of the virus that causes AIDS fell from 23 percent in 2001 to 11 percent at the end of 2008.

His study was based on tests of 18,746 women at a prenatal clinic in rural Zimbabwe over that period.

Silverman, a Canadian infectious disease expert, works at Howard Hospital, where the women were tested.

Silverman said he concluded that "a lot of the effect (of the decline in HIV infections) is from the collapsing economy."

AIDS experts have long noted that the richest countries in Africa are also those with the highest infection rates.

"You can't pay the sex worker if you have no currency," he said. "It's hard to have a concurrent relationship if you're always in earshot of your spouse, because you can't afford to travel. Because of the economic collapse, people are forced to stay home, like being in quarantine."

Getting accurate AIDS numbers in Africa, however, has been difficult since researchers are often forced to guess from imperfect indicators like HIV incidence in pregnant women.

Researchers long have speculated how much they could drive down incidence of AIDS if people were constricted to having sex with partners in their age group.

David Katzenstein, a professor of infectious diseases at Stanford University who has worked in Zimbabwe for 25 years, said: "Lack of transport, lack of money, lack of food, all decrease the amount of sex that you can have and the number of partners."


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