Religious and cultural traits in HIV/AIDS epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa

Arch Iran Med. 2007 Oct;10(4):486-97.


Background: The pandemic of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and the rise of epidemics in Asia to the previously unforeseen level are likely to have global social, economic, and political impacts. In this emergency, it is vital to reappraise the weight of powerful religious and cultural factors in spreading the disease. The role of Islam in shaping values, norms, and public policies in North African states is to be appreciated for the lowest HIV prevalence in their populations. Yet, the place of religion in prevention of the disease diffusion is not fully understood nor worldwide acknowledged by the primary decision makers. Another topic, which has received little attention to date, despite the abundance of literature concerning the unfortunate Africa's anti-AIDS campaign, is an issue of colonial past.

Methods: To better comprehend the share of both traits in diverse spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, we studied the correlation between Muslim and Christian proportions in the state's population and HIV rate.

Results: By this method, Muslim percentage came out as a potential predictor of HIV prevalence in a given state. In another approach, most subcontinental countries were clustered by colocalization and similarity in their leading religion, colonial past, and HIV seroprevalence starting from barely noticeable (0.6 - 1.2%, for Mauritania, Senegal, Somalia, and Niger) and low levels (1.9 - 4.8%, for Mali, Eritrea, Djibouti, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina-Faso, and Chad) for Muslim populated past possessions of France and Italy, in the northern part of the subcontinent. Former territories of France, Belgium, Portugal, and the UK formed two other groups of the countries nearing the equator with Catholic prevailing (Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Gabon, and Burundi) or mixed populations comprising Christian, Muslim, and indigenous believers (Benin, Ghana, Uganda, Togo, Angola, Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, and Sierra-Leone), which covered the HIV prevalence range from 1.9% to 7%. Albeit being traced by origin to the central part of the continent, HIV has reached the highest rates in the South, particularly Malawi (14.2%), Zambia (16.5%), South Africa (21.5%), Zimbabwe (24.6%), Lesotho (28.9%), Botswana (37.3%), and Swaziland (38.8%)-all former British colonies with dominating Christian population.

Conclusion: In the group ranking list, a distinct North to South oriented incline in HIV rates related to prevailing religion and previous colonial history of the country was found, endorsing the preventive role of the Islam against rising HIV and the increased vulnerability to menace in states with particular colonial record.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / ethnology*
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / virology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Geography
  • HIV / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Religion*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Viral Load