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Migration intensity has no effect on peak HIV prevalence: an ecological study

Chris Kenyon16*, Robert Colebunders2, Helene Voeten34 and Mark Lurie5

Author Affiliations

1 Sexually Transmitted Infections, HIV/STI Unit, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium

2 Infectious Diseases, University of Antwerp (UA), Head clinical HIV/STI Unit, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium

3 Research Infectious Disease Control, Municipal Public Health Service Rotterdam-Rijnmond, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

4 Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center Rotterdam, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

5 Epidemiology, Brown University School of Public Health, Providence, RI, USA

6 Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2014, 14:350  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-14-350

Published: 24 June 2014



Correctly identifying the determinants of generalized HIV epidemics is crucial to bringing down ongoing high HIV incidence in these countries. High rates of migration are believed to be an important determinant of HIV prevalence. This study has two aims. Firstly, it evaluates the ecological association between levels of internal and international migration and national peak HIV prevalence using thirteen variables from a variety of sources to capture various aspects of internal and international migration intensity. Secondly, it examines the relationship between circular migration and HIV at an individual and population-level in South Africa.


Linear regression was used to analyze the association between the various measures of migration intensity and peak national HIV prevalence for 141 countries and HIV prevalence by province and ethnic group in South Africa.


No evidence of a positive ecological association between national migration intensity and HIV prevalence was found. This remained the case when the analyses were limited to the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. On the whole, countries with generalized HIV epidemics had lower rates of internal and external migration. Likewise, no association was found between migration and HIV positivity at an individual or group-level in South Africa.


These results do not support the thesis that migration measured at the country level plays a significant role in determining peak HIV prevalence.

Ecological; Individual-level; Circular migration; International migration; Internal migration; HIV