How was the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) spread and where did it originate? Scientists have concluded that HIV originated in the 1920s, in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa. Back then this city was a bustling Belgian colony called Leopoldville filled with ambitious young men brought into the area by way of railroads, and with them came an increased demand for sex workers. This created the perfect environment for diseases to grow, including HIV, proving that this disease spread rapidly through ecological factors and not evolutionary factors.
There are two types of HIV (HIV-1 group O and HIV-1 group M) and the type of HIV that began in Leopoldville, HIV-1 group M, accounts for 90 percent of the world's HIV cases. The other type, HIV-1 group O, only accounts for roughly 10 percent of HIV and never reached the widespread epidemic of HIV-1 group M, being mostly contained in West Africa.
Scientists at the University of Oxford in the UK traced HIV genomes taken from 800 infected people in central Africa. This created a historical map that allowed the researches to compare genome sequences and thus learn that they share a common ancestor from 100 years ago, dating the disease to the 1920s. Through this information, they were also able to locate the city where it all began, Kinshasa.
Through this information, scientists are hoping to learn how to intervene with this disease. While it is interesting and helpful to learn of this disease's origins, it will ultimately be most helpful to learn how to put an end to this disease and stop it from spreading further. A breakthrough in the form of a cure is exactly what this world needs now. We do not have a solution yet, but with scientific breakthroughs like this one, we can remain increasingly hopeful that a cure for HIV is in our future.