Saturday, April 21, 2007

HIV in Africa   posted by Razib @ 4/21/2007 01:29:00 PM

Recently I stumbled upon this story, Speeding HIV's Deadly Spread: Multiple, Concurrent Partners Drive Disease in Southern Africa, via Radio Open Source. The important point is that one of the major variables in the spread of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa is the nature of sexual networks (it shouldn't be too hard to imagine that social network theory models this well). From the article:
Researchers increasingly attribute the resilience of HIV in Botswana -- and in southern Africa generally -- to the high incidence of multiple sexual relationships. Europeans and Americans often have more partners over their lives, studies show, but sub-Saharan Africans average more at the same time.
...Husbands spent months herding cattle while their wives, staying elsewhere, tended crops, Mosojane said. On his return, a husband was not to be quizzed about his activities while he was away. He also was supposed to spend his first night back in an uncle's house, giving his wife time to send off boyfriends.

Steve Sailer has long been emphasizing the low paternal investment that African males engage in as part of the problem. Without a consistent and reliable single male to supplement her own economic productivity (in much of Africa women were the primary agricultural producers) it seems that it would be rational to "diversify" one's portfolio. This is obviously not the only issue, the variation in HIV infection rates across the continent which track circumcision rates show that the dense sexual networks facilitate the spread of the virus at different rates depending upon the nature of the "choke points" (so to speak).

Note: The report suggests that circumcision was discouraged by European colonial missionaries in southern Africa. I'm skeptical of this for several reasons. First, during much of the colonial period circumcision was the norm in England, which was the dominant power in this region. Second, colonial influence seemed to be irrelevant in most of east & west Africa, where the rates of the practice follow traditional patterns. There is one group in Kenya that does not practice circumcision (unless, I assume, they are culturally Muslim, such as Barak Obama's father), the Luo. Is it because they were less colonized than other ethnic groups? I doubt it. Finally, I am to understand that Zulus circumcision specifically ended due to the command of the warlord Shaka. This predated colonization or missionaries. So, I think it is important not to take all the contentions in the article without a grain of salt since the reporter is obviously dependent on sources who will tell him whatever they want (i.e., I think the idea that circumcision was discouraged by whites is probably plausible because of the dominance of Post-Colonial theory which makes Europeans gods who have ultimate power over the direction of all the world's cultures).