HIV epidemiology informs prevention trial design and program planning. Nine clinical research centers (CRC) in sub-Saharan Africa conducted HIV observational epidemiology studies in populations at risk for HIV infection as part of an HIV prevention and vaccine trial network. Annual HIV incidence ranged from below 2% to above 10% and varied by CRC and risk group, with rates above 5% observed in Zambian men in an HIV-discordant relationship, Ugandan men from Lake Victoria fishing communities, men who have sex with men, and several cohorts of women. HIV incidence tended to fall after the first three months in the study and over calendar time. Among suspected transmission pairs, 28% of HIV infections were not from the reported partner. Volunteers with high incidence were successfully identified and enrolled into large scale cohort studies. Over a quarter of new cases in couples acquired infection from persons other than the suspected transmitting partner.