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NEWS DISPATCHES > Malaria Raises HIV Infection

8 Dec 2006

Anew study by University of Washington researchers published in the Journal Science has concluded that Malaria may be helping to spread HIV-the virus that causes AIDS. On the other hand, people whose immunity has been compromised by HIV infection, are more susceptible to malaria.

“Higher viral load causes more HIV transmission and malaria causes high HIV viral load”. Said Abu-Raddad Laith an AIDS researcher and lead study author. Viral load refers to the concentration of the HIV virus in the blood of an infected person. The higher the amount of virus in an infected person’s blood (viral load) the higher the chances that such a person can infect another person. During a malaria attack, the replication (multiplication) of the HIV virus increases in an infected person thereby increasing the viral load.

The interaction of these two diseases expand the prevalence of both especially in malaria endemic regions like sub Saharan Africa that is also noted for its high HIV/AIDS prevalence.

The researchers carried out most of their work in the Kenyan city of Kisumu, near lake Victoria (a malaria endemic zone with high HIV prevalence). This research was carried out because scientists were not convinced that it was the risky sexual behavior of the people alone that was responsible for the rapid spread of HIV in the area. Other factors, reasoned the scientists, must be involved.

According to the researchers, they believe that 5 percent of HIV infections can be linked to increased viral load caused by malaria. They also believe that 10 percent of adult malaria cases are linked to HIV.

In a population of 200,000 people over two decades period, 8500 more people were infected with HIV and 980,000 extra episodes of malaria were recorded (one person can usually get multiple malaria attacks even within a year) according to the study.

The researchers liaised the findings with data on malaria and HIV infections gathered in Malawi by James Kublin of the Hutchinson Center. A mathematical model was then used to demonstrate quantitatively the combined effect of malaria and HIV and the way it affects people.

If these findings really confirm a symbiotic relationship between HIV/AIDS and malaria, then it is certainly very bad news for public health authorities of malaria endemic zones of Africa, South America and South Asia.

Globally, malaria kills over a million people annually and renders half a billion sick. Over three million people in the world died in 2005 from HIV/AIDS and more than 40 million are living with the virus today.

Njei Moses Timah