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PLoS One. 2018 Jan 31;13(1):e0191168. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191168. eCollection 2018.

Remoteness influences access to sexual partners and drives patterns of viral sexually transmitted infection prevalence among nomadic pastoralists.

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Department of Earth System Science, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America.
Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America.
Division of Biological Sciences, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom.


Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) comprise a significant portion of the infectious-disease burden among rural people in the Global South. Particular characteristics of ruralness-low-density settlements and poor infrastructure-make healthcare provision difficult, and remoteness, typically a characteristic of ruralness, often compounds the difficultly. Remoteness may also accelerate STI transmission, particularly that of viral STIs, through formation of small, highly connected sexual networks through which pathogens can spread rapidly, especially when partner concurrency is broadly accepted. Herein, we explored the effect of remoteness on herpes simplex virus type-2 (HSV-2) epidemiology among semi-nomadic pastoralists in northwestern (Kaokoveld) Namibia, where, in 2009 we collected HSV-2-specific antibody status, demographic, sexual network, and travel data from 446 subjects (women = 213, men = 233) in a cross-sectional study design. HSV-2 prevalence was high overall in Kaokoveld (>35%), but was heterogeneously distributed across locally defined residential regions: some regions had significantly higher HSV-2 prevalence (39-48%) than others (21-33%). Using log-linear models, we asked the following questions: 1) Are sexual contacts among people in high HSV-2-prevalence regions more likely to be homophilous (i.e., from the same region) than those among people from low-prevalence regions? 2) Are high-prevalence regions more "functionally" remote, in that people from those regions are more likely to travel within their own region than outside, compared to people from other regions? We found that high-prevalence regions were more sexually homophilous than low-prevalence regions and that those regions also had higher rates of within-region travel than the other regions. These findings indicate that remoteness can create contact structures for accelerated STI transmission among people who are already disproportionately vulnerable to consequences of untreated STIs.

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