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Bull World Health Organ. 2004 Jun; 82(6): 462–469.
PMCID: PMC2622848

The natural history of HIV-1 and HIV-2 infections in adults in Africa: a literature review.


About 30 million people in Africa are estimated to be living with human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), yet data about the natural history of infection on the continent are sparse. We reviewed the literature on the natural history of HIV-1 and HIV-2 infections among African adults. Only one study, conducted in rural Uganda, has reported on survival from the time of HIV-1 seroconversion: the median was 9.8 years, which is similar to that reported in developed countries in the early stages of the epidemic and consistent with the findings from the follow-up of individuals identified by serological testing during community-based prevalence studies from Africa. Progression to symptomatic disease was faster in Uganda than in developed countries, due largely to the high background level of morbidity. Various studies suggest that people infected with HIV-2 survive longer and the course of the disease is possibly more variable than in people infected with HIV-1. However no studies have investigated survival from time of seroconversion among people infected with HIV-2. The majority of patients in hospital in Africa with either HIV-1 or HIV-2 have the clinical features of AIDS just before they die, and many are severely immunosuppressed. This is similar to the situation in developed countries before the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Potentially preventable infections are the leading causes of death among individuals infected with HIV-1. Prophylactic regimens and better treatments could have some effect on survival, but major improvements in life expectancy will require HAART.

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