TIME Infectious Disease

Origins of AIDS Traced Back to Central African City of Kinshasa

Archived samples of HIV’s genetic code allow researchers to pinpoint its beginnings to the 1920s

HIV/AIDS originated in Kinshasa in 1920, long before it was officially recognized in the 1980s, according to a study published on Friday in the journal Science.

The authors of the study traced the origin of the disease to Kinshasa, which is now part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, using archived samples of HIV’s genetic code. HIV is a mutation of simian immunodeficiency virus, a virus found in chimpanzees, and the researchers think it probably entered the human species through infected blood from bush meat.

The report then attributes the spread of the disease to a rapid population expansion, a booming sex trade and unsterilized needles used in health clinics. “The second really interesting aspect is the transport networks that enabled people to move around a huge country,” Oliver Pybus, one of the authors of the study, told the BBC, which reports that over 1 million people were using Kinshasa’s railways by the end of 1940, allowing the disease to spread even more rapidly.

HIV first came to global attention around 1980, and has since affected over 75 million people.

TIME

Ebola Cases in Congo Have Doubled Over the Past Week

Patients are being treated in temporary isolation units

The incidence of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo has spread, with the number of cases doubling over the past week, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported Thursday.

The Congo virus is of a separate strain from the one currently rampaging through West Africa, where the disease has claimed over 2,200 lives in the past nine months.

There were 31 new cases reported in Congo between Sept. 2 and Sept. 9, bringing the total number to 62. All of the infections are confined to four villages in one county and are linked to one initial case reported to WHO on Aug. 26 — by grim coincidence the anniversary of the discovery of Ebola in Congo, which was then known as Zaire, 38 years ago.

Patients are currently being treated in temporary isolation units and a mobile laboratory has been installed. A total 35 people, including seven health workers, have died so far.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Thursday that the three West African nations worst hit by Ebola face a fiscal blowout of $100 million to $130 million each, and that Sierra Leone’s annual growth this year will decrease from 11.3% to 8%, Liberia’s from 5.9% to 2.5% and Guinea’s from 3.5% to 2.4%, due to the epidemic.

“All three countries do have IMF programs,” IMF deputy spokesman William Murray said at a press briefing. “We’re in active engagement right now with the authorities to help determine how we can cover the additional financing requirement that they are facing.”

TIME the Democratic Republic of Congo

African Foreign Ministers Give Rwandan Rebels Six Months to Disarm

United Nations peace keepers record details of weapons recovered from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militants after their surrender in Kateku
U.N. peacekeepers record details of weapons recovered from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda militants after their surrender in Kateku, a small town in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo on May 30, 2014. Kenny Katombe — Reuters

The rebel FDLR group has been accused of massacring civilians in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo for nearly two decades

In a meeting in Angola on Wednesday, foreign ministers from African nations announced a six-month suspension of military intervention to allow the dissident Rwandan group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), to disarm and end years of fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The FDLR, a rebel group that opposes the Rwandan government and is based along Congo’s eastern border, includes members who initiated the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The rebel group has been accused of massacring civilians in Congo for nearly two decades. The Rwandan military has also regularly entered Congo to fight the rebel group, causing additional turmoil in the country.

Although the FDLR agreed to disarm and engage in dialogue on May 30, it is estimated that only about 200 out of around 1,500 rebels have put down their weapons. U.N. officials said in a report on Thursday that the FDLR was continuing to train new recruits despite promises of peace.

Angola’s Foreign Minister Georges Chikoti told the Angola Press News Agency that the rebel group’s efforts would be reassessed in three months. “The results of this surrender (of FDLR arms) are not sufficient,” he said. Lambert Mende, Congo’s government spokesman, said the army was prepared to continue military operations if the rebels did not honor the disarmament agreement.

Rwandan officials are meanwhile angered that the FDLR has continued to be admitted to international talks as a separatist group — representatives were recently at a conference in Rome with U.N. officials. “I am completely bored and disgusted by this (rebel) problem,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame said at a news conference on Tuesday, Reuters reports.

Although over 25,000 members have left the FDLR since 2002, the group has maintained stable numbers over the past few years. If the disarmament and demobilization of the FDLR is successful, it could allow Congo — a country rich in gold, copper and diamonds — to regain much needed stability.

[Reuters]

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