Kinshasa in the 1950s | Getty | 14038
A team at the University of Oxford and the University of Leuven, in Belgium, tried to reconstruct HIV’s “family tree” and find out where its oldest ancestors came from by analysing mutations in HIV’s genetic code. They found that the HIV virus originated in the 1920s in the city of Kinshasa, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and was then called Leopoldville.
Prof Oliver Pybus said: “It was a very large and very rapidly growing area and colonial medical records show there was a high incidence of various sexually transmitted diseases.” Large numbers of male labourers were drawn to the city, distorting the gender balance until men outnumbered women two to one, eventually leading to a roaring sex trade…. “Public health campaigns to treat people for various infectious diseases with injections seem a plausible route [for spreading the virus].
“The second really interesting aspect is the transport networks that enabled people to move round a huge country. Around one million people were using Kinshasa’s railways by the end of the 1940s. The virus spread, with neighbouring Brazzaville and the mining province, Katanga, rapidly hit.