10 Major Factors That Contribute to the Spread of HIV/AIDS in the Developing World

Updated on February 16, 2018
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Januaris is a social science researcher. He mainly researches on social contexts and behavioral factors that impact HIV/AIDS prevention.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), the developing countries have the highest number of HIV/AIDS infections in the whole world. There are approximately 32 million people living with the virus in these countries.

The worst hit regions include Sub-Saharan Africa, Caribbean, and South-East Asia. The countries with the highest HIV prevalence rates and the largest number of HIV-positive people in these regions include South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, Zambia, Uganda, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica, Haiti, India, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

The spread of the virus decreased from 15% in 1990 to around 8% in 2015, but more than 6 million new infections occur every year in these countries. This is according to Center for Disease Control (CDC).

In this article, I am going to discuss the major factors that fuel the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Third World countries. Read on to learn about these factors and some ways that I have recommended to help reduce the epidemic.

HIV/AIDS Prevalence High in Developing World
HIV/AIDS Prevalence High in Developing World | Source

Factors that Influence the Spread of HIV/AIDS in Developing Countries, in Brief

  • Promiscuity
  • Ignorance
  • Illiteracy
  • Poverty
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • HIV/AIDS stigma
  • Cultural factors
  • Lack of access to maternal services
  • Tribal conflicts and civil wars
  • Immigration and movement of people

1. Promiscuity

Promiscuity is now the leading cause of the spread of HIV in the developing regions. Many people are having more than one sexual partner, and also prostitution is common in the regions (Hilary Heuler, VOA).

Promiscuity is being practiced by both young adults and married people. A big number of people in relationships are practicing infidelity without caring about its consequences. Surprising studies show that more than 60% of new infections are occurring in married people (Choi K.H., Gibson D.R., Han L., Guo Y.).

2. Ignorance

Most people living in these regions are fully aware of the disease, but they continue to get involved in practices that fuel its transmission. This is ignorance, and it is adversely driving the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the whole world, not just the developing countries (Kelly M. J., Bain, B.).

Recently, an international media house reported that many Africans do not care about protecting themselves from the infection. HIV transmission can be prevented by condoms, but many people are reluctant to use them even when getting intimate with new partners.

3. Illiteracy

The Third World countries have a large percentage of people who know very little about HIV/AIDS. Most people know the disease exists, but they lack information about its aspects (Kelly M. J., Bain, B.).

Generally, the illiterate people don’t know anything about the HIV transmission ways and preventative measures, and they continue to engage in unsafe practices that spread the virus.These people are also easily influenced by the beliefs, myths, and misconceptions about the disease.

4. Poverty

The developing world has a large population of people living in poverty. Most poor people are forced to do anything to earn a living, including engaging in sexual activities which are a high-risk factor for the disease.

There have been many cases of young people getting involved in commercial sex in these countries. This activity has been studied to tremendously increase the disease prevalence. Poor people also have limited access to education which means that illiteracy is common among them (Scott E., Simon T., Foucade A., Theodore K., Gittens-Baynes K.).

5. Drug and Alcohol Use

Drug and alcohol use is quite common among the youth in the developing regions. According to studies, there have been consistent new HIV infections resulting from sharing of injectors among the drug users in these regions (Liu H., Grusky O., Li X., Ma E.).

There are also other ways in which alcoholism and drug use affects the spread of the disease in these countries. For example, the alcohol users find themselves not being able to make wise decisions when getting involved in sexual activities. On the other hand, people who are addicted to drugs are turning to careless sexual behaviors to relieve the pain and stress caused by the addiction.

6. HIV/AIDS Stigma

People living with the virus are still stigmatized in the developing world, and this is causing many people to avoid HIV testing. Most people who manage to get tested do not reveal their status if they have been found to have the virus. They also find it difficult to get antiretroviral (ARV) drugs or to use them in the presence of other people (Grant A.D.).

Those who do not know their status continue to get involved in high-risk behaviors and activities. According to HIV/AIDS specialists, people who are infected with the disease and are not using ARVs are spreading the virus more easily compared to those who are using them.

HIV/AIDS Stigma Still Experienced in Developing Countries
HIV/AIDS Stigma Still Experienced in Developing Countries | Source

7. Cultural Factors

The most common cultural factors fueling the spread of HIV/AIDS in the developing world include polygamy and wife inheritance. These cultural practices are specifically common in Africa (Susser I., Stein Z.).

In the case of polygamy, if one partner gets infected, he or she is highly likely to spread the virus to all the other partners. In these countries, most partners in a polygamous marriage are usually unfaithful which means that many of them introduce the virus to their marriages.

In wife inheritance, HIV spreading occurs if the new husband or the widow has the virus. According to researches, a large percentage of the widows are usually HIV positive.

8. Lack of Access to Maternity Services

The developing countries lack enough maternity services for all their pregnant women. Most women, especially those in remote areas, bear children without the help of trained healthcare providers (Grant A. D., Yousaf M.Z.).

Also, expectant mothers who are infected find it hard to get medical advice on how to keep their newborns free from the virus. So there are usually many cases of mother-to-child transmission in places with scarce maternity services in these countries.

9. Tribal Conflicts and Civil Wars

The Third World has been experiencing tribal conflicts and civil wars for a long time. The areas hit by these conflicts and wars do not have enough healthcare services to cater for the HIV/AIDS victims. These areas also do not get enough disease awareness programs and VCT services (Harris N., Yousaf M.Z.).

Most people affected by the conflicts and wars live in refugee camps. The camps are well known to be home to all sorts of evil, including drug abuse and prostitution which fuel the epidemic.

10. Immigration and Movement of People

First, HIV/AIDS was introduced in most of these developing regions by people from other countries (i.e., the developed ones). And even today, there is a big number of new infections that are caused by immigrants.

Second, the movement of people within these regions has been increasing the spread of the disease. Infected people spread the virus when they move to work or study in areas that are free from the disease. This is one of the reasons for the high prevalence rates in urban centers that are located along the major highways (Bond G., Howe D., Cobley A.)


According to my own studies, it can be possible to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in the developing countries. If the people can avoid promiscuous behaviors and become wiser, these countries can have very low or zero prevalence rates. The governments also have roles to play. They need to provide better healthcare to the people living with the virus and enhance the disease awareness. In simple terms, everyone has a role to play in fighting this epidemic, including those living in HIV-free regions.

Everyone Has a Responsibility in Stopping HIV/AIDS Epidemic
Everyone Has a Responsibility in Stopping HIV/AIDS Epidemic | Source


  • Scott E., Simon T., Foucade A., Theodore K., Gittens-Baynes K. (2011). "Poverty, Employment and HIV/AIDS in Trinidad and Tobago". International Journal Of Business and Social Science. (2011).
  • Choi K.H., Gibson D.R., Han L., Guo Y. "High Levels of Unprotected Sex with Men and Women: A Potential Bridge of HIV Transmission in Beijing, China". dx.doi.org. AIDS Educ Prev. (2004).
  • AMS. AC. "Religious and Cultural Traits in HIV/AIDS Epidemics in Sub-Saharan Africa". ams.ac.ir. (PDF). (2010).
  • Hilary Heuler (via VOA). "Uganda's Soaring HIV Infection Rate Linked to Infidelity". voanews.com. (2013).
  • Daily Nation Kenya. "Kenya Ranked Fourth in HIV Infections". nation.co.ke. (2014).
  • Bond G. C. "AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean". Westview Press (1997).
  • Kelly M. J., Bain, B., CHAPTER 2: "The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the Caribbean". In, Education and HIV/AIDS – UNESCO. (2004).
  • Glenford Deroy Howe and Alan Gregor Cobley. "The Caribbean AIDS Epidemic". University of the West Indies Press, Kingston, Jamaica. (2000).
  • Liu H., Grusky O., Li X., Ma E. "Drug Users: A Potentially Important Bridge Population in the Transmission of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Including AIDS, in China". dx.doi.org. (2006).
  • Harris N. “AIDS in Developing Countries”. dikseo.teimes.gr. (2003).
  • Susser I., Stein Z. "Culture, Sexuality, and Women's Agency in the Prevention of HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa". dx.doi.org. American Journal of Public Health. (2000).
  • NCBI, NLM, NIH, "Choice-Disability and HIV Infection: A Cross Sectional Study of HIV Status in Botswana, Namibia and Swaziland". ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. (2012).
  • Fortunate, Edith. "Rich Kenyans Hardest Hit by HIV, says Study". nation.co.ke. Daily Nation. (2013).
  • W.H.O. "Expert Group Stresses that Unsafe Sex is Primary Mode of Transmission of HIV in Africa". (2003).
  • Yousaf M.Z. "The Epidemic of HIV/AIDS in Developing Countries; the Current Situation". virologyj.biomedcentral.com. Biomed Central. (‎2011).
  • Grant A.D. "HIV Infection and AIDS in the Developing World". bmj.com. The BMJ. ( 2001).
  • Grant A.D. "The Growing Challenge of HIV/AIDS in Developing Countries". bmb.oxfordjournals.org. Oxford Journals. ‎(1998).

What do you think can significantly reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Third World countries?

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    © 2015 Januaris Saint Fores


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      • profile image

        Miya 2 weeks ago

        Very helpful content.

      • Jan Saints profile image

        Januaris Saint Fores 2 months ago from the Midwest

        Can't disagree!

      • profile image

        SILVER 2 months ago

        The provision of education on HIV/AIDS to the developing world is of necessary for sustainable development.

      • profile image

        Jafet Karen 2 months ago

        Thanks. I got all what i was looking for. . Keep it up. .

      • profile image

        Victor Mboya 5 months ago

        Very intelligent points to remak

      • profile image

        Nyabuto jason 5 months ago

        Good content.thanks

      • profile image

        Ezekiel 6 months ago

        Helpful content

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        tofunmi 7 months ago

        thanks for the tips

      • profile image

        Ebba 9 months ago

        Wow.... I got all what I was looking for.

      • profile image

        escar 9 months ago

        thanks alot