Substantial heterogeneity in HIV prevalence has been observed within sub-Saharan Africa. It is not clear which factors can explain these differences. Our aim was to identify risk factors that could explain the large differences in HIV-1 prevalence among pregnant women in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Moshi, Tanzania.
Cross-sectional data from a two-centre study that enrolled pregnant women in Harare (N=691) and Moshi (N=2654) was used. Consenting women were interviewed about their socio-demographic background and sexual behaviour, and tested for presence of sexually transmitted infections and reproductive tract infections. Prevalence distribution of risk factors for HIV acquisition and spread were compared between the two areas.
The prevalence of HIV-1 among pregnant women was 26% in Zimbabwe and 7% in Tanzania. The HIV prevalence in both countries rises constantly with age up to the 25-30 year age group. After that, it continues to rise among Zimbabwean women, while it drops for Tanzanian women. Risky sexual behaviour was more prominent among Tanzanians than Zimbabweans. Mobility and such infections as HSV-2, trichomoniasis and bacterial vaginosis were more prevalent among Zimbabweans than Tanzanians. Reported male partner circumcision rates between the two countries were widely different, but the effect of male circumcision on HIV prevalence was not apparent within the populations.
The higher HIV-1 prevalence among pregnant women in Zimbabwe compared with Tanzania cannot be explained by differences in risky sexual behaviour: all risk factors tested for in our study were higher for Tanzania than Zimbabwe. Non-sexual transmission of HIV might have played an important role in variation of HIV prevalence. Male circumcision rates and mobility could contribute to the rate and extent of spread of HIV in the two countries.