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African AIDS Spreading Rapidly In Many Forms

November 23, 1985

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ A variety of fatal AIDS-related diseases are spreading rapidly through African cities largely through prostitution and unwise medical practices, according to dozens of new research studies.

Study of the disease patterns in Africa, where exposure to the AIDS virus has been found in 20 percent of the urban population in some areas, could show how AIDS will continue to develop in Western countries, researchers said Friday at an international symposium on African AIDS.

″I would like to mention prostitution as one important and serious problem″ in the spread of AIDS, said Dr. Herbert Nsanze, who lived in Kenya until moving to the Fiji School of Medicine nine months ago.

Nsanze said prostitution was common in many African cities, and researchers have generally found that acquired immune deficiency syndrome is more common in urban areas in Africa than in other areas.

Researchers have also found that AIDS, which destroys the body’s natural defenses against disease, is much more common in individuals who have had other sexually transmitted diseases.

AIDS-related diseases noted so far in Africa include an especially virulent form of a cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma, which is found in a different form in American and European AIDS patients.

In Zaire, a fungal infection called cryptococcal meningitis, which was extremely rare before 1978, is now becoming much more common, said Dr. Joseph Vandepitte of St. Rafael Hospital in Leuven, Belgium. More than seven times as many cases are being seen now as were seen before 1978, he said.

The diseases have begun to spread rapidly in Africa only during the 1980s, casting doubt on the hypothesis that AIDS originated in Africa and spread there before moving to the United States and elsewhere.

At least three teams of researchers who had been scheduled to present their work at the symposium canceled their participation, apparently fearing that publicizing the African problem would anger some African governments, said Dr. Nathan Clumeck, one of the meeting’s organizers.

African nations have so far not reported their tallies of AIDS-related diseases in their countries to the World Health Organization.

″The big fear of the African governments is being made the scapegoats,″ said Clumeck.

In Africa, AIDS is a heterosexual disease, Clumeck said. He noted that antibodies to the disease - evidence of exposure - were found in the blood of 5 percent of Kenyans tested, 7 percent to 12 percent of Zairians and up to 18 and 20 percent of Rwandans and Ugandans.

The illnesses caused by AIDS are also found in African children. Elsewhere, homosexuals and intravenous drug users are the groups with the highest risk of contracting AIDS.

Dr. Philippe LePage of Kigali, Rwanda, found AIDS and ARC, or AIDS-related complex, in 49 Rwandan children who averaged about 10 months old when they got sick. During 18 months of study, 13 of them died.

Four of the infants died of measles, and three of diarrheal illnesses - ailments that would be easily treatable in the absence of AIDS.

Several researchers have made the controversial claim that they have found AIDS antibodies in frozen samples of African blood from as long ago as 1959.

Some scientists have concluded that AIDS originated in Africa, perhaps originally in monkeys, which have been found to carry a related virus.

Not everyone agrees, however. ″The virus may have been in Africa before 1981,″ said Dr. Christopher Williams of University College Hospital in Ibadan, Nigeria.

″But the virus causing the AIDS epidemic is probably an altered virus that may have mutated outside Africa - we can’t say.″

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