Melanin and HIV in sub-Saharan Africa

J Theor Biol. 2003 Jul 7;223(1):131-3. doi: 10.1016/s0022-5193(03)00070-5.


HIV is common in sub-Saharan Africa. Sexually transmitted bacterial and fungal infections increase the chance of HIV infection. Melanin can prevent the penetration of skin and mucus membranes by microorganisms, and soluble melanin can inhibit HIV replication. We suggest that melanin may reduce the incidence of HIV infection through venereally acquired skin lesions, thus reducing the risk of sero-conversion and slow the progress to AIDS. Indigenous sub-Saharan peoples are highly melanized, but there is pigment variation between populations. We show that skin reflectance, a negative correlate of melanin, is positively associated with adult rate of HIV in sub-Saharan countries. There is no such relationship in populations outside sub-Saharan Africa. We suggest that melanin concentration in black people may correlate with resistance to HIV infection.

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • HIV Seroprevalence*
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Melanins / physiology*
  • Scattering, Radiation
  • Skin Pigmentation*


  • Melanins