Geospatial Transmission Hotspots of Recent HIV Infection - Malawi, October 2019-March 2020

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022 Mar 4;71(9):329-334. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm7109a1.


Persons infected with HIV are more likely to transmit the virus during the early stages (acute and recent) of infection, when viral load is elevated and opportunities to implement risk reduction are limited because persons are typically unaware of their status (1,2). Identifying recent HIV infections (acquired within the preceding 12 months)* is critical to understanding the factors and geographic areas associated with transmission to strengthen program intervention, including treatment and prevention (2). During June 2019, a novel recent infection surveillance initiative was integrated into routine HIV testing services in Malawi, a landlocked country in southeastern Africa with one of the world's highest prevalences of HIV infection. The objectives of this initiative were to collect data on new HIV diagnoses, characterize the epidemic, and guide public health response (2). New HIV diagnoses were classified as recent infections based on a testing algorithm that included results from the rapid test for recent infection (RTRI)§ and HIV viral load testing (3,4). Among 9,168 persons aged ≥15 years with a new HIV diagnosis who received testing across 103 facilities during October 2019-March 2020, a total of 304 (3.3%) were classified as having a recent infection. Higher proportions of recent infections were detected among females, persons aged <30 years, and clients at maternal and child health and youth clinics. Using a software application that analyzes clustering in spatially referenced data, transmission hotspots were identified with rates of recent infection that were significantly higher than expected. These near real-time HIV surveillance data highlighted locations across Malawi, allowing HIV program stakeholders to assess program gaps and improve access to HIV testing, prevention, and treatment services. Hotspot investigation information could be used to tailor HIV testing, prevention, and treatment to ultimately interrupt transmission.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Disease Hotspot*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis*
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology*
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • HIV Testing / methods*
  • Humans
  • Malawi / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Public Health
  • Sentinel Surveillance*
  • Software
  • Spatial Analysis*
  • Young Adult