What really is a concentrated HIV epidemic and what does it mean for West and Central Africa? Insights from mathematical modeling

Marie Claude Boily*, Michael Pickles, Michel Alary, Stefan Baral, James Blanchard, Stephen Moses, Peter Vickerman, Sharmistha Mishra

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: HIV epidemics have traditionally been classified as "concentrated" among key populations if overall HIV prevalence was below 1% and as "generalized" otherwise. We aimed to objectively determine the utility of this classification by determining how high overall HIV prevalence can reach in epidemics driven by unprotected sex work (SW) and how estimates of the contribution of SW to HIV transmission changes over time in these epidemics. Methods: We developed a deterministic model of HIV transmission specific to West and Central Africa to simulate 1000 synthetic HIV epidemics, where SW is the sole behavioral driver that sustains HIV in the population (ie, truly concentrated epidemics), and it is based on a systematic extraction of model parameters specific to West and Central Africa. We determined the range of plausible HIV prevalence in the total population over time and calculated the population attributable fraction (PAF) of SW over different time periods. Results: In 1988 and 2008, HIV prevalence across the 1000 synthetic concentrated HIV epidemics ranged (5th-95th percentile) between 0.1%-4.2% and 0.1%-2.8%, respectively. The maximum HIV prevalence peaked at 12%. The PAF of SW measured from 2008 over 1 year was <5%-18% compared with 16%-59% over 20 years in these SW-driven epidemics. Conclusions: Even high HIV-prevalence epidemics can be driven by unprotected SW and therefore concentrated. Overall, HIV prevalence and the short-term PAF are poor makers of underlying transmission dynamics and underestimate the role of SW in HIV epidemics and thus should not be used alone to inform HIV programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S74-S82
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015


  • Concentrated epidemic
  • Epidemic driver
  • Mathematical modeling
  • Sex work
  • West and Central Africa


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