Overview of the epidemiological conditions of HIV among key populations in Africa

Harry Jin, Arjee Restar, Chris Beyrer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Introduction: Despite extraordinary progress in HIV treatment coverage and expanding access to HIV prevention services and that multiple African countries are on track in their efforts to reach 90-90-90 goals, the epidemic continues to persist, with prevalence and incidence rates too high in some parts of the continent to achieve epidemic control. While data sources are improving, and research studies on key populations in specific contexts have improved, work on understanding the HIV burdens and barriers to services for these populations remains sparse, uneven and absent altogether in multiple settings. More data have become available in the last several years, and data published in 2010 or more recently are reviewed here for each key population. This scoping review assesses the current epidemiology of HIV among key populations in Africa and the social and political environments that contribute to the epidemic, both of which suggest that without significant policy reform, these epidemics will likely continue. Results and discussion: Across Africa, the HIV epidemic is most severe among key populations including women and men who sell or trade sex, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, transgender women who have sex with men and prisoners and detainees. These groups account for the majority of new infections in West and Central Africa, and an estimated 25% of new infections in East and Southern Africa, despite representing relatively small proportions of those populations. The HIV literature in Africa emphasizes that despite significant health needs, key populations experience barriers to accessing services within the healthcare and legal justice systems. Current shortcomings of surveillance systems in enumerating key populations impact the way funding mechanisms and resources are allocated and distributed. Adapting more equitable and epidemiologically sound frameworks will be necessary for current and future HIV programming investments. Conclusions: Through this review, the available literature on HIV epidemiology among key populations in Africa brings to light a number of surveillance, programmatic and research gaps. For many communities, interventions targeting the health and security conditions continue to be minimal. Compelling evidence suggests that sweeping policy and programmatic changes are needed to effectively tackle the persistent HIV epidemic in Africa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere25716
JournalJournal of the International AIDS Society
Issue numberS3
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Africa
  • HIV
  • incidence
  • key populations
  • people who inject drugs
  • sex workers
  • sexual and gender minorities
  • surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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