Steve Connor, Independent, October 2, 2014
A “perfect storm” of factors that came together in colonial Africa early last century led to the spread of Aids in the human population and eventually a full-blown pandemic infecting more than 75 million people worldwide, a study has found.
A genetic analysis of thousands of individual viruses has confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that HIV first emerged in Kinshasa, the capital of the Belgian Congo, in about 1920 from where it spread via the colonial railway network to other parts of central Africa.
Scientists believe the findings have finally nailed the origin of the Aids pandemic to a single source, a colonial-era city then called Leopoldville which had become the biggest urban centre in Central Africa and a bustling focus for trade, including a market in wild “bush meat” captured from the nearby forests.
The study, based on analysing the subtle genetic differences between various subtypes of HIV, found the human virus had evolved from a simian virus infecting chimps which were hunted for food by people who had probably carried HIV with them into Kinshasa.
Rapid social changes, such as an increase in commercial sex workers and the re-use of dirty syringes, aided the transmission of the virus which was also carried to distant parts of the Congo by the millions of passengers who used the newly-built railway network, the scientists said.