Reason to go to Medical School: AIDS in Africa

Prevalence rates of AIDS in AfricaI’m in medical school (partly) because I can’t shut my brain off and need to constantly be assuming information.  Boredom is a fate worse than death and this field is the balm.  So aside from reading about Infectious Diseases for my Pathophysiology exam this Thursday, I’m also reading the blogs of Cosmologists, Financial Advisors, Politics, and Economists.  Today, we have synergy.

In Infectious Diseases, I’ve just learned about the rates for sexual exposure to HIV among different groups.

  • Male exposes Female (1/200 – 1/2000)
  • Female exposes Male (1/700 – 1/3000)
  • Male exposes Male (1/10 – 1/1,600)

Do those look low to you?  These rates are not sufficiently high to either cause or sustain an epidemic!  So how the hell are these epidemics sustained in Africa?  The hypothesis provided in my notes:

  • HIV transmission rates are too low to explaoin the epidemic
  • HIV transmission is intermittently amplified by increasing genital tract shedding
  • Amplified transmission is critical to the spread of HIV

So imagine my absolute excitement to find this article by the famous economist, Emily Osler!  Three Things You Don’t Know About AIDS in Africa.

  1. It’s the wrong disease to attack
  2. It won’t disappear until poverty does
  3. There is less of it than we thought, but it’s spreading as fast as ever

I encourage you to read it for yourself.  But we’re not done yet.  If you really want to stretch your mind, you have to surround yourself with mind-stretching ideas.  That’s where TED comes in.  Technology Education Design is an annual conference that brings together remarkable people from around the world into one space to share something valuable: their ideas.  I subscribe to the TEDTalks Podcast and often listen to these 20 minute videos again and again (if you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to them on the web here).  And thanks to this wonderful resource, I’ve learned about Larry Brilliant.  He is a physician and his life story is remarkable including living in India for 10 years studying under a Hindu sage, becoming a diplomat for the United Nations, and in his capacity as an epidemiologist he presiding over the last case of smallpox on the planet.  In his talk (you can listen to it here) he describes the effort it took to hunt down the disease, door to door, over and over, for years.  He’s amazing, and it will take people like him to actually take what we are learning about the spread of AIDS in Africa and actually turn that information into eradication.

And I wouldn’t have put any of this together if I had decided to study something else.

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3 Responses to Reason to go to Medical School: AIDS in Africa

  1. nosugrefneb says:

    YES. Seeing a new TED episode in my new podcasts list is one of the joys of my week. Did you see the videography one from last week? Amazing. My fave is still Michael Shermer, though.

    Great post, as always.

  2. Drmarie says:

    The reason hiv spreads a lot in africa and south east asia is becquse of the co infection with herpes and syphilis which both produce breaches in the mucosa. Those diseases are very common in those parts of th world, especially syphilis and its chancre.

  3. Mardochee Jean says:

    HIV is mostly spread in Africa from the undisposed needles that are reused in healthcare facilities.

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